Athletes, politicians keep spotlight on Brittney Griner on her birthday

Oct 18, 2022, 4:38 PM | Updated: 7:31 pm

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner remains in a Russian prison on drug possession charges Tuesday, her 243rd day in custody.

The day marks Griner’s 32nd birthday, as well as the opening day for the NBA.

With that, Griner remains at the forefront of people’s minds. Griner was trending on Twitter on Tuesday morning, and ESPN’s basketball show, NBA Today, dedicated time to her story.

Griner, an eight-time all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but testified that she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

On Tuesday, players from the WNBA, athletes from other sports, politicians and more made sure Griner’s situation remains in the spotlight.

“I can’t even imagine having to spend my birthday in prison when you thought you would be here at home,” Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “I hope our fans, Mercury fans and our community keep praying for her.”

Griner’s February arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she played during the U.S. league’s offseason.

A Russian court in the first week of October set Oct. 25 as the date for American basketball star Brittney Griner’s appeal against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years, and Griner’s lawyers argued after the conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

Reflecting the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “merchant of death.”

The White House said it has not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.

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