Following the news of Brittney Griner’s sentencing in Russia on Thursday, Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith discussed the challenge of taking the floor just hours after the verdict.
Griner, 31, received a nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony and a fine of 1 million rubles (approximately $16,500) stemming from her arrest at a Moscow airport in February for possessing hashish oil in her luggage. Amid a host of efforts spearheaded by the WNBA and a variety of advocates in the 168 days since her arrest, the Mercury held a 42-second moment of silence before Thursday’s matchup vs. the Sun in honor of Griner and her No. 42 jersey.
After the game, Diggins-Smith, joined at the podium by guard Diamond DeShields, passionately expressed the collective sorrow felt by her and her teammates after fielding questions about Griner’s sentencing.
“It’s heavy; it’s just heavy, y’all,” Diggins-Smith said. “Y’all asking these questions don’t really take away from our trauma, you just add to our trauma so we can break down and cry in front of y’all so you can see how we feel. Like, I don’t know what else to really say about it.”
She continued, “It’s our sister; this is not some random Jane off the street. It’s not anything we’re politicizing. It’s a human being, and this is our real-life friend and real-life sister. So, imagine if your real-life friend or real-life sister is out here.
“I don’t expect everybody to give a damn, but we really do. And we come out here and we’re still supposed to play this f------ game. Nobody wanted to even play today. How are you supposed to approach the game, approach the court with a clear mind and the whole group is crying before the game?”
As Mercury players and players across the league continue to navigate playing with a heavy heart with Griner still wrongfully detained overseas, Diggins-Smith explained how Phoenix has tried to find ways to rally in the All-Star center’s absence.
“You try to honor her, and you try to come out and still play hard for her. And, you know, regardless if she here or not right now, we still gotta try to keep her spirit alive, to honor her spirit and to try to get some momentum for the team, something to feed off of,” she said.
In the aftermath of Thursday’s sentencing, the Associated Press reported Friday the Kremlin said it’s open to talking about a possible prisoner exchange involving Griner, signaling another significant development in her continued fight to return to the United States.
The update came a week after AP reported Russian and U.S. officials have conducted negotiations about possible prisoner exchanges, but “there has been no concrete result yet.”
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