Friends and colleagues of WNBA star Brittney Griner have expressed support and grief after a Russian court sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony after finding her guilty of trying to smuggle illegal drugs into Russia.
Breana Stewart, a four-time WNBA All-Star who has played with Kreiner on the UMMC Yekaterinburg Russian team since 2020, said, “I’m sure Brittney is very upset and sick. “Now that the trial is over and the sentence has been passed, I know she must be in a very emotional state, and I’m going to send her home. I want her to know that we are still doing everything we can to accommodate.
Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17, when Russian customs officials said they found hashish oil in vape cartridges in his luggage at an airport near Moscow. His trial began on July 1 and a conviction was widely expected. The U.S. State Department said Griner was wrongfully detained and was negotiating his release.
Griner’s family has asked former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held in Russia since 2018, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has been working for Griner’s release, for help.
“Today’s sentence for Brittney Kreiner is harsh by Russian legal standards and proves what we know Britney is being used as a political pawn,” Kreiner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Kolas, said on Twitter. “We appreciate and continue to support @POTUS and @SecBlinken’s efforts to quickly get a deal done to bring Britney, Paul and all Americans home.”
A’jah Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces moments after the verdict was announced Tweeted “Free BG!” With an orange heart emoji. DeJonai Carrington of the Connecticut Sun Tweeted “Praying very hard for Fiji.”
The Phoenix Mercury issued a statement calling Griner’s situation a nightmare.
“While we know that taking our friend home is never a legal process, today’s ruling is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare endured by our sister PG,” the Mercury’s statement said.
WNBA Players Association issued a statement on Twitter Its executive director, Terry Carmichael Jackson, called the verdict “unjust” and urged US authorities to do everything they could to bring Griner home.
“Given his record of service on and off the court, PG deserves to come home,” the statement said.
The world sports community has since called to stand with Greiner.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert issued a joint statement: “The commitment of the WNBA and the NBA is unwavering and our hope is that we are at the end of this process to bring BG home to America.”
A few NBA players also weighed in.
“Smh 9 years…. Free BG,” Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo He said on Twitter.
Nets star Kyrie Irving Tweeted: “What is really going on with our Queen @brittneygriner @POTUS @VP? Please give us an update.
Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, has been working to secure Griner’s release since March.
“People need to remember that this conviction was part of a sham trial and Britney was wrongfully detained,” Allred said on Twitter. “This is another cynical way for Russia to try and gain influence.”
Debbie Jackson, Griner’s high school basketball coach, choked back tears when she learned of Griner’s verdict. Jackson recruited Griner, then a volleyball player, to play basketball at Nimitz High School in Houston.
“It saddens me that that’s the end,” Jackson said. “I tried to be optimistic, fully aware that when you’re dealing with Russia, things don’t go the way you hope.” He said he believes Criner “can be confident that our State Department will work on prison reform for him and other Americans who are incarcerated there.”