Brittney Griner is still in detention in Russia, WNBA President speaks out

This is an upsetting update because there is no change. WNBA player Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since sometime in February. She and many other players played in Russian leagues in the off-season for more money than they make here. After Russia invaded Ukraine, she was trying to fly home and was arrested at the airport for allegedly having vape cartridges with hash oil in her luggage. That charge could have a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Brittney’s arrest didn’t make headlines until March, when Russia released the news. And her detention has been extended to May 19. By all accounts, those in Brittney’s camp are following the strategy of staying quiet/vague publicly and pushing privately to get her home. But the WNBA Players Association president appeared on Good Morning America to share a brief update and speak generally about the efforts to bring Brittney home.

WNBA Players Association President Nneka Ogwumike is sharing an update on her “sister” Brittney Griner after the athlete was arrested in Russia and remains held abroad.

Griner was arrested in Russia Feb. 17 after officers with the Russia Federal Customs Service allegedly found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage at Sheremetyevo International Airport.

“That could have been us,” [Ogwumike] said of Griner. “We’re really most concerned about her health and safety, especially her mental health. We’re hearing in that respect, she’s okay, but we want her home.”

Ogwumike also revealed why she is speaking about the arrest now. “Given the nature of Brittney’s situation, when it happened, it was very important for us to be intentional about doing the best thing to ensure that we don’t compromise her coming home,” she told the anchor, 61.

“So a lot of that had to do with educating ourselves about the details of what was going on as much as we could know,” she continued, “but then understanding how important it was for us to be strategic about when and how we speak about her.”

Ogwumike also commented on the coverage of Griner’s detention, telling Roberts that gender plays a large role in how her case has been reported.

“It’s disappointing that the question of it being a gender issue is top of mind now, when it comes to this type of circumstance, but the reality is, she’s over there [in Russia] because of a gender issue. Pay inequity.”

The WNBA Players Association president said she previously played in Russia for four years, Poland for one year and China for two years, explaining, “We go over there to supplement our income.”

U.S. officials met with Griner last month for the first time since she was arrested in February. US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing that “a consular officer visited Brittney Griner” on March 22.

“The consular officer who visited with Brittney Griner was able to verify that she was doing as well as can be expected under these very difficult circumstances,” he said. “We’ll continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly and that her rights are respected.”

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league has been working to bring Griner home, telling PEOPLE they have been working with the Phoenix Mercury, “her agent, authorities, administration, strategist experts,” adding, “it’s a huge coordination to find the best way to get her home the quickest.”

[From People]

Until Brittney was arrested, I wasn’t really aware that WNBA players played in leagues in other countries as she was doing. But apparently she was making $1 million per season in Russia, while her WNBA salary is around $221.5k. The Players Association president references gender in how Brittney’s case is being reported, due to the pay inequity that led her to Russia, but the first thing that comes to mind for me is the sparseness of coverage despite the fact that she’s a prominent American woman jailed in another country that is literally starting wars. I hope the relative dearth of coverage really is by design based on political strategy and not just because people don’t care as much about a missing Black woman. Like, I learned so much about Gabby Petito’s disappearance without even trying, but I have to search for news about Brittney and she’s a famous athlete.

It is good to know that an American consular office was able to visit Brittany and lay eyes on her, although she was denied the right of that visit for weeks. Hopefully she is, in fact, doing as well as possible, as the officer said. A couple of outlets have details about the conditions in prison from “the regional Public Monitoring Commission, a state-backed panel in Russia that monitors prisoners’ conditions.” Brittney is sharing a cell with two other women accused of drug offenses that speak English and were helping her communicate with staff and get books, but the bed is too short for her. “She is allowed two trips to a Russian sauna per week, and an hourly walk once a day. She also has access to books, Russian TV and self-fashioned board games.” I sincerely hope all that is true and her safe return is negotiated soon.

Embed from Getty Images

Photos credit:, Instar and via Instagram

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

26 Responses to “Brittney Griner is still in detention in Russia, WNBA President speaks out”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Moss says:

    Wow, she was only making $225,000 a year? No wonder she had to play in Russia for that additional million.
    But seriously, I can’t imagine how scary it must be to be detained in a forge in country, esp when they are hell bent on waging war. (I’m just not sure the details about her desperately scrounging to be a millionaire are the best light to put her in).

    • Betina says:

      How dare this black woman maximize her chances of being paid fairly! You do realize that this is a pittance compared to her level of talent and what a man would be making? It truly bothers people when women and women of color especially demand fair pay.

    • Willow says:

      ‘I’m just not sure’, ‘desperately scrounging’, we see you troll. Go kick rocks.

    • SIde Eye says:

      We hear you! How dare Black women have nice things and work to earn extra money! The frigging nerve of her. She should have been happy with that $225,000 right? Cause that’s SO MUCH money for us. When you get the chance, google what a male basketball player of comparable abilities would make in the NBA. Now off you go to complain about how many bathrooms Meghan has and the cost of the wardrobe she bought with the money she earned. We see you.

    • Joanna says:

      I think all of us would do that if given the opportunity. Financial freedom is wonderful. I experienced it briefly after selling my house and making a profit. It was wonderful not stressing about paying a bill or worrying if I was going to have enough money for food. I don’t see anything wrong with her maximizing her opportunities.

      • Bettyrose says:

        Right? Where I live $225k is the minimum to own a house and pay for gas. It’s normal for two income couples to earn that but still a struggle if you have children. eg It’s not a lot of money. But if you earn that for only working part of the year and have the ability to earn four times as much on your time off, why wouldn’t you? Russia wasn’t a risky place for an American until it suddenly was.

    • HufflepuffLizLemon says:

      Everyone else covered what I had to say pretty much, but I’ll add: read the room! This type of situation is where intersectional feminism comes to light-or where ingrained racism is brought into the light.

    • GamerGrrl says:

      Athletes have a very short career, during which time they need to maximize their earnings to sustain them for the rest of their lives. Very few score lucrative endorsement deals, and it’s even rarer for female athletes. It makes complete sense she would go where the demand takes her.

  2. Joanna says:

    I hope she gets back quickly, safe and sound.

  3. Noki says:

    Wow, well no wonder they go abroad. I had no idea that the WNBA paid so ‘low’ and this is one of their star players correct? But i am guessing the answer is simple they just dont bring the same revenue. Female soccer players seem to be the more popular in US if we compare to the male counterparts. The WNBA need to do more marketing for their sport.

  4. liz says:

    The WNBA was following the advice of the State Department and her legal team. They were told to limit the public comments in order to minimize her becoming more of a political pawn than she already was.

    The team she plays for is owned by a few oligarchs. I think the initial hope was that those owners, who know her personally, would be able to help get her out, but would be reluctant if there was pressure from the US. If that is looking unlikely, they may be looking at other avenues to help her.

    People who follow the WNBA and Women’s Hoops have known about the pay disparity for years. There are literally only a handful of players like Sue Bird, who now has sufficient sponsorship income to be able to skip the European season (after having played in Russia for 7 or 8 years). Almost everyone else goes abroad to play. They are athletes, they have a short span of time to earn money playing basketball, they have to maximize their income while they can, so that typically means going to Russia or Italy to make their real money.

    • Songs (Or It Didn't Happen) says:

      It’s scary because Russia being not the best or safest place is not something that is a brand new idea. These players are risking a lot but that’s where they need to go to get paid.

      • Bettyrose says:

        I knew someone who was living in Russia as an artist when the invasion happened. She got out in the first 24 hours without incident but she’s not famous. Anyway if we cross reference this thread with the discussion of unpaid labor on the Princess Mako thread, I absolutely applaud anyone who pursues their dream and finds a way to make it pay. The risks of living in Russia as a guest worker were minimal compared to the benefits. Operative word being “were.” The situation changed very quickly. As can happen any where.

    • Bre says:

      Adult sports fall under the category of entertainment, like all arts, you can’t force a market. 220k a year is quite impressive actually. Going to foreign countries to work in sports is common (I’ve known several myself) but it isn’t any different than any other career that might be more profitable in another area of the world.

      What Russia is doing here is terrible and Brittany doesn’t deserve this and everything that can be done should be done to bring her home. She is an African American woman and part of the LGBTQIA which puts her in even more danger in Russia. That being said, I don’t consider this a gender inequality issue and I don’t think the WNBA is to blame if they don’t have the financial ability to pay players millions.

  5. BaronSamedi says:

    I hope she gets back home safely. It’s entirely possible that the stuff they ‘found’ is a fabricated reason to hold but I also wouldn’t it hold it against her if she DID have some vape pens.

    But Russia is not the US and like many other countries they do not fuck around on drug charges.

  6. CherriePie84 says:

    This makes me so sad. Aa a black woman it is sometimes so “scary” to go through immigration when Im travelling to other countries. If I wear braids or wear my hair in a bun, best believe my entire hair will be searched (my hair has been searched at Heathrow Airport and in Germany). There is this awareness that I will be subject to more scrutiny just because…..
    All of this to say I wish she would have been as aware as to not travel with certain “things” especially in a country like Russia. I hope Im choosing the right words as the results in this case would have been the same for a Caucasian female, especially an American given the geopolitical tensions. I guess Im just making a general point that there is this added layer of scrutiny for people of colour, based on my experience and that of others that I know so we are always extra careful when travelling (clothes not too baggy, not too may layers, simple footwear, less, less, less). I hope this matter will be resolved soon so she can go home to her family and friends and I hope she is currently getting all the emotional and mental support needed.

    • Songs (Or It Didn't Happen) says:

      I am absolutely horrified reading that you. Have. your. Hair. searched. How completely invasive and uncomfortable.

      The only reference I have for this is the movie Goodfellas (or Casino?) where they hid diamonds in a woman’s hair. I can’t imagine that people smuggling shit in their hair is like, this huge underground thing. Is it? Sorry. I’m just still in shock a bit thinking about having YOUR HAIR searched. I’m so sorry.

  7. Nanny to the Rescue says:

    The fact that she’s American is the reason they’re holding her.
    The world is sanctioning Russians to force Putin to end this bloody war, and the Russians are probably thrilled to have as many Americans as possible detained. Just because they can.

  8. Janet DR says:

    I understand that work is happening behind the scenes, but it is so concerning. I’m glad to know that she is with woman who speak English.

  9. BeanieBean says:

    I really hope she’s OK. While I’m not sure I’d trust the word of a state-backed panel in Russia, I am intrigued with what they mean by a ‘self-fashioned board game’. If you want to play chess, you have to make your own chess set? Or are prisoners actually making up their own games? Could there be some sort of buzzword bingo fashioned out of Putin sayings? Or doings?

  10. Luna17 says:

    I’m real curious if the vape cartridge was planted or not. Maybe she forgot about it but idk. I know sometimes ex college players from the US who don’t go on to the nba play in other countries, I know a woman whose husband played in Egypt after college for a few years. I guess it’s fairly common for athletes. I know WNBA doesn’t pull in the same money as the mens NBA and $225k sounds like a lot to me but I would probably want an extra million a year too if I could get it. Especially since athlete careers can be so short. I hope she gets out soon.

    • Truthiness says:

      A former prisoner from the West who had to endure years before release, said he was nearly 100% certain Brittney did not have that vape cartridge. I don’t believe the WNBA women would be that foolhardy. There is no way the athletes didn’t know what Russia is capable of.

      • cassandra says:

        I’d bet they also get a pretty extensive briefing about what not to do before they go.

        Even before the war in Ukraine, I’m sure being a notable American in Russia was like having a spotlight on you. Best behavior at all times, because they are watching.

      • BeanieBean says:

        I agree, she’s smarter than that. They’ll all have been prepped really well to life in Russia.

  11. Ariel says:

    This scares the crap out of me. We have no idea what is really happening to her, nor when her ordeal will be over, if ever. She is under Russian jurisdiction.
    As a gay, black woman under a quasi nazi old white man warmonger regime.
    This is horrifying.
    I hope the strategy of quiet diplomacy works and she is home soon.

  12. theotherviv says:

    I feel for her, this is the worst time to be in that situation. I don‘t know anything about her or her lifestyle, so this may be a plant, but sadly I knew way too many Americans who were careless about their weed use when travelling over here in Europe. Even when going to Asia I have had to flush stuff of theirs down airport toilets despite having told them prison is inevitable in Asia when busted. The more prominent or famous the person, the more careless they seemed, the ones from the music industry were the worst. I‘ve seen rappers push all their stash onto female tour managers and always thought that that is the pits. I warn my kids about this constantly now because I wonder what their friends may get up to. What may be cool in their own home or a club doesn’t work when travelling.