President Joe Biden was asked by WNBA star Brittney Griner to bring her home from detention in Russia. Griner was being tried on drug smuggling charges, telling the president in a handwritten letter: “I’m terrified.” Griner was sentenced to 9 years in prison and her appeal failed as well, meaning the prison term remains in place, as does she.
Here is what Griner wrote to Biden: “As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever.” The document was delivered to the president at the White House, a spokesperson who released excerpts of Griner’s letter.
To a request for comment on the letter, the White House did not respond immediately. The 31-year-old Griner was detained in February by Russian Federal Customs Service agents at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow.
She is a Houston native who is a center for the Phoenix Mercury, and she plays for a Russian team during the WNBA’s offseason, said NBC News. “I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates!” Griner wrote to Biden. “It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home,” she wrote.
She was in possession of cannabis-derived vape cartridges, Russian authorities allege. The technical substance of what she is alleged to have possessed was not addressed by Griner’s representatives. The line between non-psychoactive cannabidiol – better known as CBD, which is popular among athletes as a possible aid in workout recovery – and psychoactive cannabis isn’t recognized in Russia.
In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CDB from its list of prohibited substances and is generally recognized as legal in the U.S. Griner recognized July Fourth in her letter, as a time to celebrate the nation’s freedoms. “On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran,” wrote Griner.
“It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year,” she added. She even begged Biden to continue working to free her, writing: “I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees.” “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore,” wrote Griner.
Officials have said they’re working behind the scenes to free her, and the White House has been steadfast in its stance that Griner is being wrongfully detained. However, many Americans feel that Griner should stay in jail and serve her time, suggesting that just because she’s an athlete, that doesn’t make her special. In fact, athletes who travel to other countries, and even cities, are notified about different laws in different places and someone who’s a professional athlete should know not to break the law.
National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement: “The U.S. government continues to work aggressively – using every available means – to bring her home” – except now that Griner’s appeal failed and she remains in prison over in Russia, there doesn’t seem to be much that America could do anyway.
Watson added that the administration is in “regular contact” with her family. “National Security Advisor Sullivan has spoken twice with Brittney’s wife over the past two weeks and the White House is closely coordinating with the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who has met with Brittney’s family, her teammates, and her support network,” said Watson.
Surely, the whole situation is even more complicated by the animosity between the U.S. and Russia. Less than a week before Russia invaded Ukraine and set in motion economic sanctions, the withdrawal of Western businesses, and the shipping of arms and technology to Ukraine, Griner was arrested.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with reporters on June 28, about Griner’s situation aboard Air Force One en route to Madrid, saying the matter “has the fullest attention of the president.” “The Russian government should release her and allow her to be returned and reunited with her family and come home safe and sound,” said Sullivan.
Recently, Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Griner’s wife, he said and expressed their sympathy for what the family was going through.