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Officials Worry Russia Could Exploit Detained WNBA Star As Leverage

Following the news that American WNBA star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia on drug charges, the conversation now turns to returning her safely to the United States. 

As reported by The New York Times on Saturday, Griner was detained after Russian Federal Customs Service officials searched her luggage, saying they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil.

Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, also plays for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason. Many players in the women’s league play in Russia in order to earn extra income.

Per the NYT, the search of Griner’s luggage occurred in February, meaning she has been in Russian custody for some time. Griner could face up to ten years in prison for the crime.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration stands “ready to provide every possible assistance” to Americans detained in Russia, without mentioning Griner specifically. 

“There’s only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point,” Blinken said Sunday. “Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we, of course, stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia.”

“In times like these, it’s important that we maintain our diplomatic contacts, that we maintain the diplomatic support, particularly support that we can provide to Americans who may need it,” he continued.

Griner’s wife, Cherell Griner, thanked those who had reached out, but asked for privacy as she continues to work on “getting my wife home safely.”

“Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia,” Cherell Griner posted to Instagram on Sunday. “Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life. I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely. Thank you!”

The timing of the arrest could not be worse for Griner, as the U.S. and many Western countries have levied heavy sanctions against Russia following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last week, President Joe Biden announced sanctions against Russia that will target “Russian elites, banks, and technology exports which he claimed will cripple Russia’s ability to modernize its military and will damage the Russian economy,” according to The Daily Wire. On Saturday, Putin said the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia were “akin to an act of war.”

Evelyn Farkas, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine, told Yahoo Sports that Russia could use Griner as a form of blackmail. 

“If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms,” said Farkas. “It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful.”

Griner was drafted by the Mercury as the top pick in the 2013 draft and has averaged 17.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game in her nine WNBA seasons. 

“We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia,” the Phoenix Mercury organization said in a statement. “We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to

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