WNBA star Griner urges US detainees in Russia to 'stay strong'

WNBA star Griner urges US detainees in Russia to 'stay strong'

Brittney Griner gives her first news conference since she was released from a Russian jail in a prisoner swap last year.
Brittney Griner gives her first news conference since she was released from a Russian jail in a prisoner swap last year.

PHOENIX: WNBA superstar Brittney Griner urged US detainees in Russia to "stay strong, keep fighting, don't give up" on Thursday in her first press conference since being released as part of a prisoner swap last year.

Speaking at a packed press conference in Arizona as she prepares to resume her career with the Phoenix Mercury, Griner vowed to keep fighting on behalf of people wrongfully detained around the world.

Asked what her message would be for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and US citizen Paul Whelan, both held in Russia, Griner replied: "I would say to everyone that's wrongfully detained right across the world: 'Stay strong, keep fighting, don't give up'.

"Just keep waking up. Find a little routine and stick to the routine as best as you can. That's what helped me.

"Just keep pushing. Because we're not going to stop. We're not going to stop fighting. We're not going to stop bringing awareness to everyone that's left behind right now."

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion and LGBTQ trailblazer, Griner was arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport in February 2022, against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Ukraine.

At the time of her arrest, Griner had been playing for a professional team in Russia, as a number of WNBA players do in the off-season.

She was accused of possessing vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil and sentenced in August to nine years in prison.

She pleaded guilty to the charges against her, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

Griner was eventually released as part of a deal that saw her swapped for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout -- known as the "Merchant of Death" -- in December.

Griner said that the knowledge that efforts were under way to secure her release during her incarceration had helped her during her time in Russia.

"There was a little bit of a delay in getting news sometimes, but I was aware of the efforts and everything that was going on," Griner said.

"Just knowing that and being aware of that, when you don't know anything... those times when I was able to see what was going on, it definitely made me a little bit more comfortable. It made me have hope, which is a hard thing to have, a dangerous thing to have, because when it doesn't work it's so crushing."

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