WNBA star Brittney Griner, in a handwritten letter to President Joe Biden, said she feared being detained in Russia indefinitely and pleaded with the president not to forget her and the other American detainees.
“(As) I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, my family, my friends, my Olympic jersey or any achievement, I am terrified to be here forever,” she wrote, according to a statement released by the communications company representing the Griner family.
Griner, 31, who played in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian authorities claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage and charged her with smuggling large amounts of a narcotic, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. She was tried on Friday in a court near Moscow for drug trafficking.
Griner supporters and US officials say she was wrongfully detained and have called for her release amid growing fears she will be used as a political pawn amid growing tensions between Russia and the US.
Griner’s letter to Biden, according to the communications company’s statement, was delivered to the White House on Monday morning. Three excerpts from the letter have been made public, while the rest are kept secret, according to the statement.
“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. It hurts to think about how I usually celebrate this day because that freedom means something completely different to me this year,” Griner wrote to Biden.
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget me and the other American inmates. Please do all you can to get 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. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know that they are in so much pain right now. I appreciate whatever you can do at this time to bring me home.
Biden read the handwritten letter, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
“We’re going to use whatever tools we can” to bring Griner home, she added.
The White House reiterated on Monday that “the Russian Federation wrongfully detains Brittney Griner.”
“President Biden has been clear on the need to see all U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas released, including Brittney Griner. The U.S. government continues to work aggressively — using every means available — to bring her home,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement to CNN.
“The president’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family and we will continue to work to support her family,” Watson said, adding that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “have spoke with Brittney’s wife several times in recent weeks.” and the White House is coordinating closely with the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, who has met with Brittney’s family, teammates and support network.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, told CNN last week that she wants US officials to do whatever they need to do to bring the basketball legend home – and she needs to see them Do more.
In the only interview she gave on the eve of his wife’s trial in Russia, Cherelle Griner sat in Phoenix Mercury’s locker room and called for more action.
“It’s really, really difficult. This is not a situation where rhetoric matches action,” she said. “I unfortunately have to push people to make sure the things they say to me are also consistent with their actions, and so that’s been the hardest thing to balance because I can’t let go. It’s been over 130 days and BG still hasn’t returned.
The US House of Representatives last month passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the Russian government to immediately release the WNBA star.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Brittney and work to bring her home,” Democratic Representative Greg Stanton of Arizona, who sponsored the resolution, said in a statement. “We will continue to press for her release and ensure she is not forgotten.”
Stanton previously served as mayor of Phoenix, where Griner plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
Stanton introduced the resolution in May with Democratic Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Colin Allred of Texas, Griner’s home state.
“I am grateful for this overwhelming show of support from Congress. We must do everything we can to keep Brittney’s case front and center and finally end this nightmare,” Cherelle Griner said in a statement at the time.
Phoenix Mercury first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard reacted to Griner’s letter Monday at a press conference in Los Angeles ahead of her team’s game against the Sparks.
“It brought me to tears, you know, just hearing her words about her father being a Vietnam veteran, her new perspective on freedom, her desire to be with her family and her teammates, she doesn’t know if she will ever be free again. On our day of freedom to hear these words from someone so loved… It’s great, and it’s great that she was able to bring this message to us and I hope that some people are paying attention to it and of course the Biden administration and our State Department putting this at the forefront of their messaging would be amazing for us,” Nygaard said.
The Mercury announced last week that a special public rally in support of Griner will be held Wednesday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. The event is being organized in coordination with the Stanton office, and Cherelle Griner will be a guest speaker.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Brittney Griner’s first name.
This story was updated with a response from the White House on Tuesday.