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It’ll be ‘difficult’ to get detained US basketball star Brittney Griner out of Russia, lawmaker says

A member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee said it was going to be ‘very difficult’ to get WNBA star Brittney Griner out of Russia after the basketball star was arrested last month in Moscow airport.

U.S. Rep John Garamendi, of California, said ensuring Griner’s, 31, safe return would be a tough task as talks relations between the US and Russia have broken down due to the latter’s invasion of Ukraine

‘Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,’ Garamendi told CNN

‘Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions,’ he added while also admitting that nothing was certain.   

It comes as the White House reported that Griner’s plight is on ‘Biden’s agenda,’ as the basketball star faces a potential 10-year sentence for allegedly carrying a vape pen filled with hash oil in her luggage.   

U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson, of Houston, Texas, confirmed that the White House would be working to bring back Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, and said that time was of the essence. 

‘We know about Brittney Griner, and we know that we have to move on her situation,’ Jackson told reporters on Monday. 

U.S. Rep John Garamendi, of California, said ensuring Brittney Griner’s safe return would be a tough task after she was arrested in Russia last month

Griner, 31, a WNBA star and two-time Olympian, was arrested in Moscow airport and faces a potential 10-year sentence for allegedly carrying drugs

Griner, 31, a WNBA star and two-time Olympian, was arrested in Moscow airport and faces a potential 10-year sentence for allegedly carrying drugs

Griner at scanner

Griner with officials

Griner is pictured putting her bag through a scanner after she was approached by a sniffer dog. Russian authorities accused her of smuggling drugs in her luggage and was arrested last month, with her current whereabouts being unknown

Getting Griner back to the US has been complicated by a breakdown in communications between the US and Russia over the latter's invasion and devastation of Ukraine

Getting Griner back to the US has been complicated by a breakdown in communications between the US and Russia over the latter’s invasion and devastation of Ukraine

Garamendi noted that Griner could face additional hardships in Russia due to the fact that she is a gay woman and that ‘Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws.’ 

Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said there are ‘no words’ to express her grief as she’s separated from her wife, who plays for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during her off seasons.

‘I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life,’ Cherelle Griner posted to Instagram Saturday night. ‘I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.’   

Despite being arrested in an unspecified date last month, Russian authorities did not release details about her detainment until Saturday. 

Her last communication was on February 5 when she posted a photo to Instagram of her and her Phoenix Mercury teammates. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States will ‘provide every possible assistance’ to citizens who are being held in foreign countries as the war in Ukraine continues.

Blinken, currently in eastern Europe amid the Ukraine war, was asked on Sunday about US efforts to secure her release.

‘There’s only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point,’ Blinken said of Griner.

‘Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia.’

He added: ‘We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia. We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.’

Griner, pictured in black, is seen being stopped by airport police after a sniffer dog picked up something in her bag in February

Griner, pictured in black, is seen being stopped by airport police after a sniffer dog picked up something in her bag in February 

Blinken on Sunday addressed a press conference in Moldova (pictured)

Brittney Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia for a month, and Blinken said on Sunday the US was working to secure her release

Blinken on Sunday addressed a press conference in Moldova (pictured) and was asked about the case of Brittney Griner (right), who was arrested in Moscow last month

Griner was in Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the women's EuroLeague, where she has played since 2016 and helped the team win four titles

Brittney Griner, right, and A'ja Wilson seen here checking the quality of her 2020 Olympic gold medal, which she help win for the US Women's Basketball team

Griner was in Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the women’s EuroLeague, where she has played since 2016 and helped the team win four titles

‘People say ”stay busy,” wrote Cherelle, who married Brittney in 2019. ‘Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from wondering if you are safe.

‘My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that goes by without hearing from you. I miss your voice. I miss your presence. You’re our person! There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family.’

It’s still not clear where Griner is being detained. Her agent did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for further information on Monday. 

In a statement to DailyMail.com on Saturday, Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas did not dispute reports of her client’s detention.

‘We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,’ Colas said. 

‘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.’  

Griner's last communication was on February 5 when she posted a photo to Instagram of her and her Phoenix Mercury teammates

Griner’s last communication was on February 5 when she posted a photo to Instagram of her and her Phoenix Mercury teammates

Many are worried for Griner's safety while in custody in Russia - where Vladimir Putin has enacted strict anti-gay laws

Many are worried for Griner’s safety while in custody in Russia – where Vladimir Putin has enacted strict anti-gay laws

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said Saturday that she has spoken with the State Department in an effort to get the WNBA star released

Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said Saturday that she has spoken with the State Department in an effort to get the WNBA star released

On Saturday, Griner's wife Cherelle (right) thanked people for their prayers during what she described as one of the 'weakest' moments of her life

On Saturday, Griner’s wife Cherelle (right) thanked people for their prayers during what she described as one of the ‘weakest’ moments of her life

Griner flew from  New York to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, where drug-sniffing dogs were drawn to her luggage, according to InterFax Russian news agency. The date of her flight has not been revealed.   

After the dog identified the bag, a customs agent used ‘fluoroscopic equipment’ to scan the contents and discovered the vape cartridges.

Timeline of Griner’s detainment in Russia 

WNBA star Brittney Griner flew from  New York to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport where she was detained on an unknown date and  charged with ‘smuggling narcotic drugs in a significant amount’

 January 29

Griner played for UMMC Ekaterinburg before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments 

February 5

Griner made her last communication  when she posted a photo to Instagram of her and her Phoenix Mercury teammates 

February 11 

The Biden administration told Americans to leave Ukraine and warned that an invasion could begin ‘at any time’ but Griner could have already been detained by then. 

February 24

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine 

March 5

The Russian Federal Customs Service released a statement confirming that an American ‘two-time Olympic basketball champion’ had been taken into custody in February 

March 7 

U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson said that getting Griner back to the US was in ‘Biden’s agenda’ as the US and Russia discuss the conflict in Ukraine

Video shared on Telegram showed the moment she was apprehended, with a dog approaching Griner as she walked through the airport. She was then seen putting her belongings through a scanner, with cops putting items in a plastic evidence envelope and sealing it shut as she looked on. 

‘The customs inspection of hand luggage carried by a US citizen confirmed the presence of ‘vapes’ with a liquid with a specific smell, and an expert found that the liquid is a narcotic cannabis oil (hash oil),’ according to the Russian customs service. 

Griner was flying to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the women’s EuroLeague, where she has played since 2016 and helped the team win four titles. 

She last played for UMMC Ekaterinburg on January 29 before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments, CBS News reported. 

Griner, like many other players, take overseas jobs to supplement their salary from the WNBA. 

She earned over $1 million per season playing for the Russian team.

Her arrest in Russia couldn’t come at a worse time as the country has been isolated financially and politically from the rest of the world after it invaded Ukraine.

Air travel between Russian and the US has been halted as part of the economic sanctions that President Joe Biden levied against the Slavic nation for attacking its neighbor. 

On February 11, six days after Griner’s last Instagram post, the Biden administration told Americans to leave Ukraine and warned that an invasion could begin ‘at any time’ but Griner could have already been detained by then. 

Many American professional basketball players competing in Russia during the WNBA offseason found themselves scrambling to find airline tickets to the United States following Vladimir Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine over safety concerns.   

Players that fled include WNBA stars Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones, Natasha Howard and Arike Ogunbowale, the Washington Post reported. 

On Saturday, the State Department recently issued an advisory not to travel to Russia citing the possible ‘harassment against US citizens by Russian government security officials.’

Officials added that US citizens should leave Russia immediately and that the embassy had ‘limited ability to assist US citizens.’

WHY WERE SO MANY WNBA PLAYERS IN RUSSIA?

Russia has been a popular destination for WNBA players like Brittney Griner over the past two decades because of the money they can make playing there in the winter.

With top players earning more than $1 million – nearly quadruple what they can make as a base salary in the WNBA – Griner, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Jonquel Jones have been willing to spend their offseason playing far from home. It’s tough for WNBA players to turn down that kind of money despite safety concerns and politics in some of the countries where they play.

The 31-year-old Griner, a seven-time All-Star for the Phoenix Mercury, has played in Russia since 2014. She was returning from a break for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup qualifying tournaments when she was arrested at an airport near Moscow last month after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges.

On Saturday, the State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory for Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine and urged all U.S. citizens to depart immediately, citing factors including “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and “the Embassy’s limited ability to assist” Americans in Russia.

Turkey, Australia, China and France also have strong women’s basketball domestic leagues where some of the WNBA’s best play in their offseason.

Breanna Stewart of UMMC Ekaterinburg competes with Katie Lou Samuelson of Perfumerias Avenida during the EuroLeague Women's Final match between Perfumerias Avenida and UMMC Ekaterinburg at Volkswagen Arena on April 18, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner plays in Yekaterinburg

American professional basketball players competing in Russia during the WNBA offseason were scrambling to return to the United States following Vladimir Putin ‘s invasion of Ukraine. Many agents have asked that their clients not be identified for the players’ protection. However, several high-profile WNBA stars are known to play for Russian teams, including Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (right), who is being detained following her arrest at the Moscow Airport, and current Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart (left)

WHY RUSSIAN SALARIES ARE SO HIGH

Russian sports leagues have been able to pay top players these high salaries because some of the teams are funded by government municipalities while others are owned by oligarchs who care more about winning championships and trophies than being profitable. There are stories of Russian owners putting up players in luxury accommodations and taking them on shopping sprees and buying them expensive gifts in addition to paying their salaries.

In 2015, Taurasi’s team, UMMC Ekaterinburg – the same one Griner plays for – paid her to skip the WNBA season and rest.

“We had to go to a communist country to get paid like capitalists, which is so backward to everything that was in the history books in sixth grade,” Taurasi said a few years ago.

The Russian league has a completely different financial structure from the WNBA, where there is a salary cap, players’ union and collective bargaining agreement.

The WNBA has made strides to increase player salaries and find other ways to compensate players in the last CBA, which was ratified in 2020. The contract, which runs through 2027, pays players an average of $130,000, with the top stars able to earn more than $500,000 through salary, marketing agreements, an in-season tournament and bonuses.

The CBA also provides full salaries while players are on maternity leave, enhanced family benefits, travel standards and other health and wellness improvements.

WHO PLAYS THERE?

More than a dozen WNBA players were playing in Russia and Ukraine this winter, including league MVP Jones and Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley of the champion Chicago Sky. The WNBA confirmed Saturday that all players besides Griner had left both countries.

Almost half of the WNBA’s 144 players were overseas this offseason, although stars Candace Parker, Bird, Chiney Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray opted to stay stateside.

WILL THIS LAST?

From purely a basketball stand point, the CBA will make it more difficult for WNBA players to compete overseas in the future. Beginning in 2023, there will be new WNBA prioritization rules that will be enforced by the league. Any player with more than three years of service who arrives late to training camp will be fined at a rate of 1% of base salary per day late. In addition, any player who does not arrive before the first day of the regular season will be ineligible to play at all that season. In 2024 and thereafter, any player who does not arrive before the first day of training camp (or, with respect to unsigned players, finish playing overseas) will be ineligible to play for the entire season.

The WNBA typically begins training camp in late April and the regular season starts in early May. Some foreign leagues don’t end before those dates. 

-Associated Press 

In addition to Griner and Stewart (No. 42 and No. 30, respectively, in the back row) other Americans playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg include Allie Quigley (bottom right) and Courtney Vandersloot (bottom left). It is not known which American players are trying to leave Russia

In addition to Griner and Stewart (No. 42 and No. 30, respectively, in the back row) other Americans playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg include Allie Quigley (bottom right) and Courtney Vandersloot (bottom left). It is not known which American players are trying to leave Russia 

It’ll be ‘difficult’ to get detained US basketball star Brittney Griner out of Russia, lawmaker says Source link It’ll be ‘difficult’ to get detained US basketball star Brittney Griner out of Russia, lawmaker says

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