Russia Detains American WNBA Basketball Player For Drug Possession

Russian customs officials say they have detained Brittney Griner, a seven-time All-Star professional player for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medal winner. She was reportedly found to have vape cartridges in her luggage containing hash oil.

The Russian government released a video purporting to be Griner at an airport wearing a COVID mask and black sweatshirt going through a security checkpoint. An item was shown being removed from Griner’s bag. The screening allegedly occurred in February, indicating that Griner has been in custody for a few days.

Russian officials said that the materials confiscated could result in a maximum prison term of 19 years.

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, issued a statement providing she is aware of Griner’s situation in Russia and is in close contact with her, her lawyer in Russia, her family and the WNBA. Colas refused to comment further because the problem is an ongoing legal matter, except that getting Griner home and protecting her physical and mental health are the primary concerns.

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, posted a picture on Sunday of her along with a message to Griner’s fans. She thanked everyone who had offered prayers and support and asked the public to honor their privacy as they worked to get Griner returned to the US.

The WNBA issued a statement of support saying its main priority is Griner’s “swift and safe return to the United States.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not mention Griner by name when asked about assistance for Americans in Russian custody but said the US is working to free all Americans being detained and urged all other Americans to leave Russia. The State Department’s consular service visits detained Americans internationally and assists them in obtaining legal representation. The service can ensure prisoners are adequately cared for but cannot directly represent Americans in foreign courts.

Since her college basketball career as an All-American at Baylor, Griner has played for the WNBA in Phoenix in the spring. She has spent winters in Russia for the last seven years, where she earns more than $1 million per season playing professionally, which amounts to more than four times the salary she earns in the WNBA.

Her last appearance playing for her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, came on Jan. 29.