Brittney Griner, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star who spent 10 months behind bars in Russia on bogus drug charges, said she will play in the upcoming WNBA season. She is also committing to use her platform to advocate for the release of Paul Whelan, an American citizen who has been incarcerated in Russia since 2018.
Speaking out for the first time since she was released, Griner issued a statement on Instagram December 16 and shared photos of the moment when she stepped off the plane and embraced her wife, Cherelle Griner, on December 9. She returned to the United States in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.
“It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn,” the six-time WNBA all-star wrote on Instagram. “I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”
Griner went on to thank a long list of people, including her wife, Cherelle; agents Lindsay Kagawa Colas and Casey Wasserman; the Phoenix Mercury; WNBA players; WNBA players association executive director Terri Jackson; Russian lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alex Boykov; and former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
Griner also made it a point to give special thanks to President Joe Biden and his administration for working to secure her release.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.”
Griner concluded her note by expressing her plans to return to her team to play in the upcoming season. Her team, the Phoenx Mercury, will begin the upcoming season on May 19 in Los Angeles.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” Griner said.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February when she was returning to Russia to play off-season basketball. Russian authorities accused Griner of possessing cannabis oil and she was hit with a nine-year sentence on punitive drug charges. She was sent to a penal colony east of Moscow last month to begin her sentence.
The prisoner swap followed months of drawn-out negotiations between the White House and the Kremlin. At one point, the negotiations almost collapsed when the Russians complained that talks of an exchange spilled too far into the public arena.
While the United States sought to involve Whelan, the Biden administration said Russia would only agree to a deal with Griner.