The arrest of WNBA superstar and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner over alleged drug charges in Russia has left family members, friends and supporters with little information about her well-being and anxious for her safe return.
And the heightened tension between the US and Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine means that a resolution may prove difficult to reach.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, wrote on Instagram on Monday, “People say ‘stay busy.’ Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from wondering if you are safe.
“My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that goes by without hearing from you. I miss your voice. I miss your presence. You’re our person! There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family,” she wrote.
Over the weekend, she thanked supporters and asked for privacy “as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.”
Debbie Jackson, a former high school coach of Griner’s, told CNN. “You’re always hoping for the best,” and described Griner during their time together as disciplined and humbled.
“You’ve always had a true resolve and grit to get to the finish line. And know that you will get to the finish line,” she said of Griner.
Griner, like many other WNBA players, plays overseas in the offseason where salaries can be much higher. She won the EuroLeague Women championship last year with Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she has played since 2015 during her offseasons.
Griner has spent her entire WNBA career with the Phoenix Mercury and won the league’s championship in 2014. The WNBA has confirmed that all other league players have departed Russia and Ukraine.
The league, along with USA Basketball, the Mercury and the WNBA players’ union, have all publicly shared their concerns for Griner.
Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, said in a statement, “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 WNBA and NBA.
“As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
Fans are showing their support for Griner, with more than 26,000 people signing the “Secure Brittney Griner’s Swift and Safe Return to the U.S.” petition on Change.org as of Monday night.
A customs official via Russian media said Griner was stopped in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York.
During a search of her luggage, authorities found cannabis oil and Griner was detained, said Irina Begisheva of the Main Directorate for the Fight Against Smuggling of the Federal Customs Service.
“A criminal case has been opened against an American citizen under section 2 of 229 YK RF (Russian law) for smuggling of a significant amount of drugs,” she said.
Griner’s whereabouts aren’t publicly known.
CNN has reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment but has not heard back.
Jackson told CNN affiliate KPRC she worries Griner may be used by Russia for political purposes.
“Their system of justice is nothing like the United States, anything can happen and so your mind just races,” Jackson told KPRC.
“I just pray for Brittney that she can be strong and hopefully she knows that there is a lot of people here pulling for her,” she said.
A member of the US House Armed Services Committee said “it’s going to be very difficult” to get Griner out of Russia.
“Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN on Monday.
“Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”
He also noted that “Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws” – though it’s not clear whether those rules and laws might impact Griner’s case.
But the Biden administration is working on trying to get Griner out of Russia, members of the Congressional Black Caucus said after meeting with President Joe Biden on Monday.
“The best news we got today was that they know about it and that she’s on the agenda,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas, told reporters.
Noting a potential 10-year-sentence for Griner, Jackson Lee added: “We know about Britney Griner, and we know that we have to move on her situation.”