The U.S. government now considers WNBA star Brittney Griner to be “wrongfully detained” in Russia, according to a Tuesday morning report from ESPN’s T.J. Quinn.
Although officials declined to say what led to the reclassification, the decision signals a drastic shift in how officials will try to get the 31-year-old back home on American soil. Until this past weekend, Griner’s case had been handled by the consular office, but now will be passed to the special envoy’s office, according to Quinn.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a State Department official told ESPN in a statement Monday. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Not only will the case be officially reclassified, but the shift will allow WNBA players and other supporters to bring as much attention to Griner’s case as they wish moving forward, according to Quinn. Previously, the player’s personal team kept a low profile and adhered to State Department advice so as to not jeopardize her release.
“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, said in a statement Tuesday, per Quinn.
Griner, a seven-time All-Star with the Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, was arrested in February at Sheremetyevo International Airport, where Russian officials said they discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. According to ESPN, the offense could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
In March, Russian state media reported Griner’s detention had been extended to May 19. She has not been formally charged but is scheduled to have a hearing on that date, according to Quinn.
Before the reclassification, the latest update regarding the situation came on April 27 when U.S State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Griner’s safe return remains a “top priority” following the release of ex-Marine Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap with Russia. Officials were granted access to meet with Griner back in mid-March, Price said during a March 23 press conference, and reported that she was “in good condition.”
The WNBA has also been kept in the loop throughout Griner’s detainment. Before the 2022 WNBA draft earlier in April, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the WNBA was working with “everybody in our ecosystem” to ensure the Mercury player’s safe return from Russia.
The league also announced Tuesday it would keep Griner “at the forefront of what we do” with a floor decal during the 2022 season. The decal will be used by all 12 teams and will feature the seven-time All-Star’s initials along with her number, No. 42.
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