US Basketball Star Brittney Griner Heads Home After Ten Months In Russian Custody

Denise Diaz-DeLeon, Copy Editor

On Thursday morning, December 8, President Biden announced the official release of WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner. Griner, 31, was apprehended in Russia back in February on charges for possessing cannabis oil. She was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison facility in August.

After discussions of a prisoner swap, President Biden announced on social media, “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home”. Griner was arrested and charged with attempting to smuggle drugs after Russian officers searched her belongings and found vape cartridges for marijuana use. 

Upon her apprehension, Congress began working diligently to have Griner released, with President Biden pleading for her release during her trial. However, after weeks on trial, Griner pled guilty to a Moscow court, stating it wasn’t her intent to break the law. She bore herself to the mercy of the court, hoping for leniency. 

According to CNN, Griner stated “That’s why I pled guilty to my charges. I understand everything that’s been said against me, the charges that are against me and that is why I plead guilty but I had no intents to break any Russian laws”. Nonetheless, Griner was given a nine-year sentence, just one year shy of the maximum sentence for this charge in Russia. Griner’s wife described this occurrence as “one of the darkest moments of my life”.

Brittney Griner is labeled an all around All-Star as a member of the Phoenix Mercury. She is a two-time gold medalist and has received many additional awards during her career with the WNBA, including a six-time WNBA All-Star winning streak. Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, spoke at a White House press conference in smiles and expressed gratitude after meeting with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris stating, “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”.

President Biden addressed the nation about Griner’s release stating “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should’ve been there all along”. Others in Congress bask in the glory of Griner’s release. “Brittney Griner is coming home. This is such wonderful news for her wife and family, as well as for everyone else who fought hard for her release. Many thanks to President Biden”, expressed former Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Peace and Justice Institute Facilitator and Valencia College Professor Hank Van Putten, Jr. enthusiastically explained, “Around mid-morning (Dec. 8), my phone began lighting up with notifications that simply stated, ‘BG IS FREE!’ I had to check several sources to be sure that this was in fact happening. After months of being held hostage by the Russian government, WNBA and Olympian Britney Griner is headed home for the holidays to her family, friends and supporters who made sure during her unjust captivity over these many months that we ALL remember to ‘say-her-name’!” Van Putten also said, “We celebrate BG’s return here in the States, while remaining mindful that there are still many others, Paul Whelan, whose names we must not let fade into the background of being unseen and unheard until they, too, are free-at-last.”

Valencia West Campus librarian Nardia Cumberbatch, Co-Communications Officer for the Valencia African Heritage Committee, commented, “It’s amazing that Griner gets to be home for the holidays, and she has the best present in the Respect for Marriage Act passing as a member of a same-sex couple.” The Respect for Marriage Act passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 8.

Florida Senator Anna Eskamani shared her thoughts about Griner’s return “It’s very good news that Brittney is coming home, and I know the Biden Administration will do whatever they can to get Paul Whelan home, too.” In July, President Biden originally offered the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of both Griner and Whelan. U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was detained in Russia in 2018 on espionage charges, which he and the U.S. government continuously deny. Griner was the only American released for Bout. 

Overjoyed by the news, Griner’s peers and fellow athletes react. WNBA athlete Swintayla Marie Cash Canal, also known as Swin Cash, retweeted the President’s tweet, commenting “Tears of Joy”.  A story of tragedy turned to triumph as Brittney Griner reunites with her family, just in time for the holiday season.