A Democratic congressman said this week that he has been in touch with the State Department regarding Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who has been detained in Russia for nearly a month over drug charges.
Representative Colin Allred of Texas said Wednesday that he has been trying to get to the bottom of Griner’s detention, which has emerged as a strange subplot in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
Griner was detained at a Moscow airport on February 17 after officials there found cannabis vape cartridges in her possession. The charge carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years.
In an announcement, the Russian Federal Customs Service did not identify Griner by name but said that it had detained a U.S. women’s basketball player who had won two Olympic gold medals. It also released a video of a woman who meets Griner’s description going through airport security. Russian authorities confirmed that the country detained Griner last weekend.
“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams and the WNBA and NBA,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said after the announcement last weekend. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
“The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now. But she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning,” he added.
A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Allred played football at Baylor University, the same school where the six-foot-nine Griner starred as a member of the women’s basketball team.
“Of course for me, there is a Baylor connection,” Allred said, as quoted by ESPN. “And also being on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and having recently visited Ukraine and being intimately involved with our response to the Russian aggression there. But also the fact that Brittney is a high-profile LGBTQ advocate and icon in many ways.”
Allred noted that it isn’t the first time an American has been imprisoned by Russian authorities. But Griner, one of the best women’s basketball players to ever play the game, is easily one of the most high-profile individuals to find herself in such a situation. She has played all nine seasons in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury, making seven all-star teams and winning a title in 2014.
Since 2014, Griner, like many American women’s basketball players, has played in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason.
The timing is also striking, with Russia-U.S. relations deteriorating amid the former’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“So this is not the first time in recent years that an American has been detained and then held either without reason or without a sufficient kind of explanation,” Allred said, as quoted by ESPN. “What’s obviously different here is that Brittney is an extremely high-profile athlete, and it’s happening during the course of a Russian-begun war in Ukraine, in which we are deeply opposed to what they’re doing.”
“This would normally be run through our embassy or consular services in the country,” he added. “It’s also true that we’re drawing down some of our embassy personnel in Moscow and the State Department has asked all Americans in Russian to leave. But I don’t think that’s going to impact the ability for them to advocate on her behalf.”