American basketball star Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia on drug charges while concerns grow over human rights as relations between the two countries deteriorate.
Griner was arrested Feb. 17 after customs officers allegedly found cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. If convicted, Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told journalists on Friday the United States is in “very active contact” with Griner’s team, lawyers, representatives and the WNBA. Russia, Blinken said, is required by international law to give the United States consular access to Griner. Thus far, access has been denied, said Blinken.
“So we are working very hard on getting it, on being able to get access to her, to hear directly from her how she’s doing, and to make sure we’re doing everything we can to see to it that her rights are being respected and upheld in the Russian system and in terms of international law,” Blinken said.
Griner, 31, is an award-winning basketball player who has led her teams to championships at the college and professional levels and the Olympic Games. The 6-foot-9 center is part of a rare group of athletes who have dunked in women’s games and her dominant play prompted Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to float the idea of an NBA tryout. Through her endorsement deal with Nike, Griner often breaks the mold by wearing gear designed for men.
In a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated, Griner came out as a lesbian. She is married to Cherelle Griner, a writer and law school student, and has two children with her first wife and fellow WNBA player Glory Johnson.
Griner, a seven-time all-star for the Phoenix Mercury, was in Russia playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA’s offseason. Her detainment sparked a new version of the #FreeBritney hashtag and galvanized efforts from LGBT groups who understand the dangers that come with being openly gay in Russia.
“As a queer woman of color my hope is that the Russian government is honoring the humanity of Brittney Griner and that she is being treated with respect and dignity and will be returned to the U.S. promptly,” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.