The United States government has reclassified WNBA star Brittney Griner to being “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement to ESPN on Tuesday.
People close to Griner’s case have not provided more information on what caused the change in stance, but the situation is being handled differently than it was before.
Brittney Griner involves the U.S. Government
The government’s updated status for Griner means that they will no longer sit by idly and wait for her case to play out; instead, they will get involved and begin negotiating the terms of her release.
“We feel really good about it,” a source close to Griner said. “But we also know it can drag out, so we don’t want to get our hopes too high.”
The status change also comes with the family’s blessing to raise as much awareness of Griner’s case as possible. The WNBA recently announced that it will be adding a floor decal with Griner’s initials and number (42) to every court to show solidarity and continue to bring eyeballs to her case.
Griner has received overwhelming support from her WNBA contemporaries, as well as members of congress and other professional athletes.
A person close to Griner also relayed that Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has worked privately as an international hostage negotiator, has signed up to help get the seven-time All-Star out of prison. Experts have signaled that Richardson’s involvement would bring a new level of priority to the case.
The U.S. State Department had advised Griner’s family to lay low and let her situation resolve itself in the Russian court of law. This was done in an attempt to limit her value as an asset, and thus help keep Russian President Vladimir Putin from increasing and wielding his power; however, the recent developments reflect a paradigm shift.
An official informed ESPN late Monday night of the updated nature of the case.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” per the notice. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Until this past weekend, Griner’s case was being monitored by the consular office, which deals with situations involving international detainments without necessary involvement— the Phoenix Mercury center’s case has since been sent to the special envoy. People close to Griner claim they were not informed why the change was made.
“It has been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home,” Nneka Ogwumike, former WNBA champion, MVP, and president of the WNBA players’ union, said via Twitter.
She then continued: “Having learned that the U.S. government has now determined that BG is being wrongfully detained we are hopeful that their efforts will be significant, swift and successful.”
Having learned that the U.S. government has now determined that BG is being wrongfully detained, we are hopeful that their efforts will be significant, swift and successful. #WeAreBG
— Nneka Ogwumike (@nnekaogwumike) May 3, 2022
Griner’s case received a recent boost with the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who had been held in Russia since 2019. He was swapped for a Russian citizen convicted of drug smuggling, an ordeal that had Richardson’s fingerprints all over it.
Griner plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian women’s basketball team, during the WNBA offseason. She was arrested at an airport upon entering the country for allegedly purchasing vape cartridges containing hashish oil.
The American is set to have her hearing in a Russian court on May 19— she has not been formally charged.