After two and a half months, the U.S. State Department has shifted its stance on Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia from a wait and see approach, to stating that the foreign government has “wrongfully detained” the former Baylor superstar. Griner was arrested in February and accused of possession of narcotics, specifically hashish oil contained in vape cartridges, while she was going through customs at Russia’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Griner, who plays in the WNBA, has also played professionally in Russia as well as China to supplement the income she makes as a professional athlete. Not much is known regarding Griner’s arrest and the evidence against her. She is scheduled to have a hearing on May 19th in the Russian Courts.
Prior to Saturday’s reclassification (Griner’s family was notified Saturday, Congress was notified Monday), Griner’s case was being handled by the U.S. Consular’s Office, who generally takes a hands off approach and prefers to “monitor” cases of U.S. citizens detained abroad, but not directly intervene. Now, though, the U.S. State Department appears ready to actively involve themselves on Griner’s behalf, stating “The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government. The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner.... The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner.” It is not clear what caused the change in classification for Griner, but this updated stance also affects the willingness of Griner’s family and legal team to allow Congress, teammates, fans, and other organizations to bring as much attention as possible to the case. Originally, government advice to the family had been to keep a low profile, possibly to prevent Griner from becoming a bargaining piece for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. Government has now put the former Olympian’s case in the hand’s of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Roger Carstens. Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson will also be working on Brittney’s case at the request of her family. Richardson has experience as an international hostage negotiator and was an important piece in the work to bring former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed home from his detainment in Russia. Reed was arrested in 2019 and accused of endangering the lives of government officials. After months of negotiations, Reed was finally brought home on April 27th after the U.S. and Russian governments agreed on a prisoner swap. Reed’s timeline does not affect what we can expect for Griner, but it is important to note that these negotiations can, and do, take time as both sides posture for outcomes they want. What is most important is that the U.S. Government is now taking an active stance in Griner’s release, rather than allowing the Russian legal system to play out.
Arguably as important as this is the fact that former U.S. ambassador Bill Richardson is now working on Brittney Griner’s case, at her family’s request. Richardson has worked as an international hostage negotiator for years and helped bring Trevor Reed home last week. https://t.co/0MNiTVabgZ— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) May 3, 2022
Because of this, expect to see more open and vocal support from teammates, fans, and members of Congress, but not necessarily directly from the White House or State Department as they begin negotiations. “Typically — and I don’t believe this will change — in order to leave the space to have an outcome we all want and desire — which is to bring her and any American detained or unjustifiably detained home — we typically don’t talk about it extensively,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Overall, this is a positive development in what has been a difficult case to follow. Baylor fans, Basketball fans, and fans of human safety and decency can take a small, but significant, sigh of relief that the U.S. Government is not standing by, but rather doing what they can to bring a U.S. Citizen home from detainment in a country currently engaged in a war with Ukraine, and one that has a poor history with its treatment of people that are a part of the LGBT community. Sources close to her family said, “We feel really good about it, but we also know it can drag out, so we don’t want to get our hopes too high.”
Griner likely has a long road ahead, but our voices can, and should, be heard regarding her case. OurDailyBears will continue to monitor the case and will provide updates as more information becomes available.