Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, wants President Joe Biden to secure her partner’s release and do whatever it takes to bring the WNBA star home from Russia, where she has been detained for more than three months.
“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn, ”said Cherelle, who became emotional detailing what little she knows about Griner’s detainment during an interview that aired Wednesday on Good Morning America. “So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
The Phoenix Mercury center has been detained since Feb. 17 after vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil were discovered in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.
According to USA news, Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the United States, is charged with drug smuggling, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. The Biden administration stated earlier this month that Griner is being wrongfully detained.
Cherelle has discussed Griner’s case with Secretary of State Antony Blinken but not with President.
“I was grateful for the call, you say she’s a top priority, but I wanna see it. And I feel like to see it would be me seeing BG on U.S. soil,” Cherelle said in her first public interview. “At this point, I don’t even know who I’m getting back when she comes back.”
Russian officials have described Griner’s case as a criminal one, with no political overtones. However, Moscow’s war in Ukraine has lowered US-Russia relations to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Despite the conflicts, Russia and the United States exchanged prisoners last month, exchanging former Marine Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
While the US does not typically support such exchanges, the deal was made in part because Yaroshenko had already served a significant portion of his sentence.
Griner may be considered by the Russians as a possible participant in another such exchange.
Aside from Griner, another American detained in Russia is Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges that his family claims are false.
“Even though they’re separate people, separate roles, no connection besides what they’re going through in Russia, you know, I obviously want him back too,” Cherelle said. “You don’t want anybody to be there, going through what they’re going through.”
Cherelle, who graduated from North Carolina Central University’s law school earlier this month, hasn’t spoken to Griner on the phone since the day she was detained.
“I first heard the news through Brittney, actually. She started texting me around 2:00 a.m. that morning,” Cherelle said. “‘Babe. Babe. Babe. Wake up. They have me in this room. I don’t know what’s going on.’ And so I instantly text back “Who are they and what room?”
Cherelle said Griner responded, texting: “The customs people. They just grabbed me when I was going through, and they have me in this room.” Griner then sent a message saying, “They’re about to take my phone.”
Cherelle stated that she instructed Griner to contact her as soon as she was able. She’s been waiting for that call for nearly 100 days.
“The first week I laid on this couch and cried my eyeballs out. I was numb. I couldn’t move,” Cherelle said. “And then I said, ‘You got to get up now.’”
Cherelle and Brittney communicate via letters and her lawyers. The attorneys print out articles for Griner to read so she can stay up to date on what’s going on.
Friends and teammates of Griner were initially hesitant to discuss her situation for fear of compromising ongoing negotiations for her release. However, as her detention gained national attention, they began cautiously speaking out before the women’s Final Four in early April.
Cherelle became emotional when discussing the support and how it has helped Griner stay strong during her fight for release. The WNBA has identified the 6-foot-9 Mercury center’s absence by placing a decal with her initials and number on the home floor of all 12 teams.
“It comforts BG,” Cherelle said. “It lets her know she’s not forgotten and … when you’re sitting over there, your country … they haven’t come … to your rescue yet. I know that it makes her feel good Because she doesn’t want to be forgotten.
“Things like that matter, like, it has her hopeful,” Cherelle added. “It lets her know she’s not forgotten. Those small moments, I know give her some type of hope.”
Cherelle stated that prior to his detention, Griner’s experience playing in Russia had been excellent over the previous nine years. She was detained as she returned to the country after the Russian league took a break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament.
“You know you are a GOAT if you can actually play in Russia … on the team, BG plays for,” Cherelle said. “They treat them like superstars.”
Griner, who won an NCAA championship at Baylor, earns more than $1 million per year playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg to supplement her WNBA income of $228,000. Elite players, such as Griner, can earn up to $500,000 in salary, bonuses, and WNBA marketing contracts.
“BG would wholeheartedly love to not go overseas,” Cherelle said. “She has only had one Thanksgiving in the (United) States in nine years since she’s been a pro.”
The WNBA and US officials have been working to get her released, but there has been no visible progress. Griner was able to meet with a US consular officer last week.
“We did note that a consular official from our embassy in Moscow was able to visit with Brittney Griner on the margins of her court hearing in Moscow that day,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday. “We have made the point that one-off consular visits are, in our view, not sufficient.
“But it’s not only in our view, it is in the requirements that are put forward by the Vienna Convention and other bilateral agreements that stipulate that we should have regular, sustained access to Americans who are held in detention around the world, including to those in pretrial detention.”