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WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike Discusses Brittney Griner’s Detainment in Russia

The morning after WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that the league was working to ensure Brittney Griner’s safe return from Russia, Players Association president Nneka Ogwumike continued to shine a light on Griner’s situation.

Griner has been detained in the country since February after being stopped and searched at Sheremetyevo International Airport, where officials discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

“It’s tough,” Ogwumike said of Griner’s situation in a Tuesday interview on Good Morning America. “BG [Griner] is us. We are BG.”

“That could have been us,” she added. “We’re really most concerned about her health and safety, especially her mental health. We’re hearing in that respect, she’s O.K., but we want her home.”

After news of Griner’s detainment came the light, statements from fellow WNBA players were less frequent as they did not want to jeopardize Griner’s chances of returning to the U.S. Ogwumike, a star forward for the Sparks, explained why she’s speaking out about the situation now, nearly two months after the February arrest.

“Given the nature of Brittney’s situation, when it happened, it was very important for us to be intentional about doing the best thing to ensure that we don’t compromise her coming home,” she told GMA anchor Robin Roberts.

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“So a lot of that had to do with educating ourselves about the details of what was going on as much as we could know, but then understanding how important it was for us to be strategic about when and how we speak about her.”

Ogwumike also spoke about the coverage of Griner’s detention, explaining to Roberts that gender has played a large role in how the WNBA star’s case has been reported.

“It’s disappointing that the question of it being a gender issue is top of mind now, when it comes to this type of circumstance, but the reality is, she’s over there [in Russia] because of a gender issue,” Ogwumike said. “Pay inequity.”

The WNBPA president has played in Russia for four years, Poland for one year and China for two years, pointing out that women’s players do so to supplement their income in the States.

“Quite frankly, we go over there to maintain our game,” Ogwumike continued. “Our teams encourage us to keep up with our game by going over there and being more competitive, so there is so much that’s at play that we live politically, intrinsically.”

Before the start of the WNBA draft Monday, Engelbert said that the league was “working diligently” and using “everybody in our ecosystem” to try to secure Griner’s release. She declined to go into specifics about what role the WNBA has played in the situation, but shared that the league has been in regular contact with various diplomatic and legal entities to ensure Griner’s return “safely but as soon as we possibly can.”

“Obviously, we’re in a very complex geopolitical situation with Russia, Ukraine, so this continues to be complex,” Engelbert said. “We’re getting a ton of support from the government, from specialists. Her representation is able to visit with Brittney, we know she’s safe, but we want to get her home. It’s just a very complex situation right now and we’re following all the advice.”

With Griner’s status still unresolved, the Mercury will reportedly get “roster relief” from the league, according to ESPN’s Holly Rowe, though Griner will not be suspended and will receive her full salary for this season.