Two-time Olympian and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has reportedly been detained in Russia for weeks after the Russian Federal Customs Service claimed it found hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow-area airport.
News of Griner’s detainment came late last week amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to many WNBA players leaving both countries. Now, many have questions about the bizarre and concerning situation. Here are three things you should know about Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia.
Why Brittney Griner was in Russia in the first place?
With the WNBA currently in their offseason, many of their athletes compete overseas, including in Russia, where the salary for women’s basketball is actually better than in the United States.
Griner had been playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Premier League during the WNBA’s current offseason. She arrived at the Sheremetyevo Airport in February, according to a source from the FCS weeks prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart also played for UMMC Ekaterinburg and earned approximately $1.5 million per season overseas compared to a WNBA supermax salary of $228,094, according to Sporting News. Last month, Stewart explained the conflict for many players in the WNBA, whose recent changes to its collective bargaining agreement pushes players to prioritize their league over others.
"Prioritization is, like, the biggest topic of conversation in the WNBA for me, especially in the next couple of years," Stewart said to ESPN. "To be able to play overseas at UMMC Ekaterinburg, where basketball is very valued, we're treated really well and able to make a lot of money, it's just hard for me. With the prioritization, you're cutting off one of my sources of income and not substituting it.
"That's something that needs to be kind of figured out. I don't have a great answer for what's going to happen. But I think it's going to affect a lot more players in the WNBA than people think right now."
Could Griner face serious charges over the alleged drug arrest and detainment?
Russia’s customs service has reportedly indicated that it may pursue serious charges against Griner for “large-scale transportation of drugs,” which could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Texas Representative Joaquin Castro has labeled Griner’s detention “a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens” in a tweet on Saturday, citing former marine Trevor Reed as an example.
Little is known about Griner’s detention currently. Fans are concerned she may have been in Russian custody longer than customs has indicated. Her last social media post was an Instagram photo shared on February 5.
Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, wrote on Instagram Saturday that she appreciates everyone’s support. “Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated,” Cherelle wrote via Instagram, according to Us Weekly. “I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life.”
When will Brittney Griner be released from confinement?
Officials say their investigation is ongoing, however it’s unclear when the basketball star will be released. According to Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, she is in "in close contact with [Griner], her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA."
"As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern," Colas told ESPN.