Brittney Griner Pleads With Joe Biden to Get Her Out of Russian Prison: ‘Don’t Forget About Me’

“I’m terrified I might be here forever,” the WNBA All-Star wrote from Russian prison, where she’s been since Feb. 17.
WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing just outside Moscow, Russia, on June 27.
WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing just outside Moscow, Russia, on June 27. Photo by AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

WNBA star Brittney Griner sent a letter to President Joe Biden Monday begging the White House to do more to bring her home from a Russian prison.

Griner has been in Russian custody since Feb. 17, just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, on allegations that she was carrying vape cartridges containing hash oil. 

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Griner, a seven-time All-Star for the Phoenix Mercury and considered one of the best basketball players in WNBA history, went on trial July 1. The maximum penalty for the charges is 10 years in a Russian prison. 

“I realize you are dealing with so much,” Griner told Biden. “But please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”

Though the efforts to bring Griner back to the U.S. have been largely out of public view, Griner’s handwritten letter to Biden on the Fourth of July tied her freedom to America’s Independence Day. “I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote to Biden.

“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,” Griner said in the letter, excerpts of which were released by her family. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Monday that Russia was “wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner.”

“President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner,” Watson said. “The U.S. government continues to work aggressively, using every available means, to bring her home.”

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But Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said Tuesday that Biden still hadn’t responded to the letter, which she described as “very disheartening.”

“Initially I was told, ‘We’re going to try to handle this behind the scenes… [and to] stay quiet,’ and I did that,” Cherelle Griner told CBS. “And respectfully, we’re over 140 days [since Griner’s detention] at this point, that does not work… being quiet. They [the Biden administration] are not doing anything.”

Griner is an openly gay Black woman held by a country virulently repressive of LGBTQ rights. Phoenix Mercury teammate Sophie Cunningham told the Los Angeles Times Monday she thinks there’d be more urgency to bring Griner home if she were a male athlete.

“If it were LeBron James or Tom Brady, this would be news that would be in the headlines every day,” Cunningham said. “With B.G., it is, and it’s not… it needs to be a consistent message out there until she’s home.”

The Russian government, meanwhile, has maintained that Griner is not a “hostage” and that “hundreds and hundreds of Russian citizens” have been “sentenced for carrying hashish.” 

 “She violated Russian law, and now she’s being prosecuted,” Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told NBC News last month. “There are lots of American citizens here. They’re enjoying their freedoms… but you have to obey the laws.”

in an interview with CNN last week, Cherelle Griner said she’d support a prisoner swap with Russia to bring Griner home, and that she’d like to meet with Biden to “humanize” her wife to him.

“This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action,” she said.  

“While everyone wants to tell me they care, I'd love for him to tell me he cares.” 

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