7:38 AM ET
- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, said she last heard her spouse’s voice on Feb. 17, the day the WNBA star was detained in Russia.
Now, Cherelle Griner said she hopes her voice reaches President Joe Biden.
“There is one person that can go get her, and that’s our president,” Griner told Angela Rye in an interview that is airing Wednesday on ESPN. “He has that power. You know, I’m just like, ‘Why are we not using it? Like, urgently, use it.’ We’re expecting him to use his power to get it done.”
Brittney Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that contained hashish oil, which is derived from cannabis. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The Biden administration has said Griner, a 31-year-old two-time Olympian for the United States, is being wrongfully detained.
Cherelle Griner, who earlier this month graduated from the North Carolina Central University School of Law, said she has spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as well as NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. She also credited the Mercury for their support. But she is very concerned for Brittney’s well-being.
“I’m in a position of complete vulnerability right now. I have to trust people that I didn’t even know until Feb. 17,” Cherelle Griner said. “So I’m trusting her lawyers. … ‘How does she look? How is her spirit? How is her energy?’ I’m just asking all those questions, trying to just get some type of indication or vibe.
“Some days they say, ‘She’s really strong. … She seemed in good spirits when we talked.’ And sometimes they’ll say, ‘Her energy was really low.'”
Brittney Griner was returning to Russia to complete her season for UMMC Ekaterinburg when she was arrested. Cherelle Griner said she was initially hopeful that Brittney’s detention would be short. She also said she feels that if an NBA player were being detained in Russia, there would be greater urgency on the U.S. government’s part.
“We do live in a world that, the bigger the platform, the bigger the urgency,” Cherelle Griner said.
Cherelle said Brittney was determined to finish her season in Russia but was also eager to stop going overseas. Many WNBA players compete overseas during the winter months to supplement their income, with high-profile stars such as Griner making more than $1 million per season.
“She just said she was so exhausted from always having to go overseas,” Cherelle said of Brittney, who was the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick out of Baylor in 2013. “So we talked about it, and I was like, ‘Let’s just make this your last year overseas then.’
“I’m just so sorry she’s going through this. Like, it kills me.”
U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton (Arizona), Colin Allred (Texas) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) introduced a resolution last week calling for Griner’s immediate release. Griner is a native of Houston, and she got to know Stanton, the former mayor of Phoenix, well since coming to play for the Mercury.
Former United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson, who served as the governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011 and helped negotiate the release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed from Russia last month, is also working to secure Griner’s release.
“The Russians held them, I believe, as bargaining chips,” Richardson told Bryant Gumbel in an interview on HBO’s “Real Sports” that aired Tuesday night. “They want something in return. Usually another prisoner, a Russian, in the United States. I’m convinced the Russians are going to ask for something in return, because Brittney Griner is very high profile.
“What makes it doable is that the president of the United States is ready to consider prisoner exchanges, which we haven’t [done] too much in the past.”
Cherelle Griner said she just hopes to see Brittney again soon.
“She’s the glue to our family,” Cherelle said. “She is literally the kindest, sweetest person you will ever meet, and it’s very genuine.
“When we have been able to communicate, via letters, she’s like, ‘I am so sorry I’m making your life hard right now. Don’t give up on me, though.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not going to give up on you. This isn’t your fault.'”