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Brittney Griner Released From Detention in Russia

President Joe Biden announced that the two-time Olympic gold medalist was safe and en route to the United States following nearly 10 months of imprisonment.

After 294 days in a Russian prison, WNBA star Brittney Griner is headed back to the United States. As noted by the Associated Press, the Phoenix Mercury center was freed on Thursday in what the outlet describes as a “dramatic high-level prisoner exchange” with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Per the Associated Press, President Joe Biden spoke with Griner via phone Thursday while her wife, Cherelle, was in the Oval Office.

Shortly after the news became public, Biden addressed the nation in a televised press conference.

“These past few months have been hell for Brittney,” Biden said. “I’m glad to be able to say Brittney is in good spirits. She’s relieved to finally be heading home, and the fact remains that she’s lost months of her life, experienced a needless trauma. She deserves space, privacy, and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained.

“She wrote to me back in July. She didn’t ask for special treatment, even though we’d been working on her release from day one. She requested a simple, quote, “please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees,” he added.

Cherelle also briefly spoke, thanking Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and the Biden administration for their efforts in releasing Griner from Russian detention.

“So, over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life, and so today I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration,” she tearfully said.

“Today my family is whole, but as you are all aware, there are so many other families that are not whole.”

Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” had already served 14 years after being found guilty on charges that he plotted to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that government officials said would be used against American citizens. Bout had seven years remaining on his sentence. Bout was also found guilty on conspiracy charges to murder Americans Retired US Marine Paul Whelan, who currently remains imprisoned in Russia for the past four years on espionage charges.

A looming question that remains is what will become of Whelan and when his family can expect news of his own release. Both Cherelle and Biden said they remain committed to reuniting the corporate security director with his loved ones.

“I will say that BG (Brittney Griner) and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home,” Cherelle said from the White House.

“While we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up. We remain in close touch with Paul’s family, the Whelan family. My thoughts and prayers are with them today. They have to have such mixed emotions today,” Biden added.

Continued Efforts of WNBA Players to Bring BG Home

Since Griner’s arrest on Feb. 17 after Russian officials claimed they found hash oil and cannabis vaporizer cartridges in her luggage, WNBA players have rallied both on and off the court for her release. From naming her an honorary All-Star starter earlier this year to a “Bring BG Home” rally coordinated by the Mercury and the office of Arizona Congressman Greg Stanton in the summer, Griner’s support grew with each month she remained in custody.

“I played against BG since I was in high school. We’re both from Houston. So there’s definitely a shared upbringing between the two of us. And, you know, not only is she not here, but also, you know, the nature in which she’s not here and seeing her initials and her number on every single court — it just doesn’t feel right. And I think it really helps players consider, you know, what we do this for – not just playing, but playing for each other, representing each other, ensuring that we can do everything possible to just uplift each other,” WNBPA President Nneka Ogwuimike told NPR in May.

Other work included a change.org petition and, most notably, WNBA players vowing to skip offseason play in Russia despite the million-dollar salaries that come with it; the max base salary in the WNBA in 2022 was $228,094.

“Honestly, my time in Russia has been wonderful, but especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, nobody’s going to go there until she’s home,” Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart said in September, per the Associated Press. “I think that, you know, now, people want to go overseas, and if the money is not much different, they want to be in a better place.”

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today, and most recently Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University, and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.