WNBA superstar Brittney Griner is being detained in Russia on drug charges, the country’s news agency announced on March 5.
Griner, 31, known in the U.S. as a player for the Phoenix Mercury in Arizona, was playing in Russia during the WNBA’s off-season. In addition, Griner won two Olympic gold medals as part of Team USA in 2016 and 2021, respectively.
According to the Russian agency TASS’ reporting, Griner was first arrested in February after customs officials allegedly found vape pens loaded with hash oil in her luggage.
She is one of many WNBA stars who play in Russia during the WNBA’s off-season. Griner has had a long-standing relationship with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg. According to TASS, Griner was arrested after landing in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after a flight from New York.
Griner’s arrest comes in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the U.S. Department of State’s decree that all U.S. citizens should leave Russia immediately.
Russian official released video showing Griner going through airport security
Russian customs officials have released a video purporting to show Griner going through security at a Russian airport. The video shows a person going through a piece of luggage and then removing a package.
A statement attached to the video said that Griner was accused “under paragraph ‘c’ of Part 2 of Art. 229.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation – smuggling of narcotic drugs in a significant amount. The punishment under this article is imprisonment for a term of 5 to 10 years.”
The WNBA and the Phoenix Mercury are rallying for Griner
Griner has received statements of support from the WNBA and from her team, the Phoenix Mercury.
WNBA reporter Lyndsey D’Arcangelo tweeted on March 5 that all WNBA players aside from Griner were safely out of Russia.
A brief WNBA statement said, “Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”
The Phoenix Mercury said in a statement released on social media that team officials were in constant contact with Griner’s family amid her arrest. The statement concluded with the words, “We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, was quoted by The New York Times as saying of the case, “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 W.N.B.A. and N.B.A.”
Griner, a somewhat regular poster on her Instagram page, has not updated any of her social media channels since February 5. Russia is home to some of the most anti-LGBTQIA+ laws in the world. In 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed the so-called “anti-gay propaganda” bill into law, reported The Guardian at the time.
Griner is married and lives with her wife, Cherelle, in Phoenix.