There was huge news for the sports world — and the country — on Thursday, when President Joe Biden announced that he had agreed to a trade with Russia to return American citizen and WNBA superstar Brittney Griner home.
The sports world was quick to react to the great news. The Golden State Warriors first acknowledged Griner’s return by re-tweeting the celebratory post from the Phoenix Mercury, Griner’s team. Shortly after, the team posted a video from head coach Steve Kerr. Check it out:
“I just heard the news about Brittney Griner’s release,” Kerr said. “Brittney, I just want to tell you, on behalf of the entire Warriors organization, we are so thrilled for you and your family. We can’t imagine what you’ve been through this last close to a year. Unbelievable perseverance that you’ve shown, just to make it through your time in Russia, and we’re so happy you’re coming home. I also want to say thanks to the entire WNBA community, and the NBA community. So many players across both leagues have kept this issue at the forefront, and kept the pressure on our government to continue to fight for you, Brittney, and I want to thank our government officials for making this happen as well. So, much love, we’re so thrilled for you and your family as I said, and welcome home.”
Griner was detained in mid-February at an airport in Russia, where she was playing professionally during the WNBA’s offseason. She was charged with possession of 0.7 grams of THC — a vape cartridge — which was purchased legally in the US, but is illegal in Russia. Cannabis laws in Russia state that possession of up to six grams can result in imprisonment of up to two weeks, but Griner, in a sham trial clearly done with political motivations in mind, was instead sentenced to nine years in a penal colony.
The eight-time All-Star ended up with her location unknown at one of the many penal colonies in Mordovia, where abuse, torture, homophobia, and racism are all considered commonplace. It was unknown when, or if the US government would be able to negotiate her release.
In the end, the US and Russia agreed to exchange Griner for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was set to be released from prison in six years.
Some people have asked why the government was able to bring home Griner, but not Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was arrested in Russia in 2018 on allegations of spying, and began serving a 16-year sentence in 2020. The White House maintained that Russia’s stance was Griner or no one.
My abiding lesson from reporting on this for nine months: we don’t know what we don’t know. There may be elements to this deal—and any possible deal for Whelan—that are never made public. https://t.co/wyWTegP6Xk— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) December 8, 2022
While we obviously hope that Whelan is able to return home soon, his family has spoken up, agreeing with the White House’s decision.
NEW from the Whelan family: "There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed & for them to go home. The Biden Admin made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, & to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to..”— Nick Kalman (@NickKalmanFN) December 8, 2022
Here’s hoping Whelan can return soon. And a huge, huge welcome home to Brittney Griner, one of the best athletes in the world, and a staunch advocate for equality and equity in America.