Brittney Griner speaks out for the first time since she her release


Brittney Griner has released her first statement since being released from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner swap for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The WNBA star thanked the Biden Administration, and said she knows the White House is ‘committed’ to bringing home former US Marine Paul Whelan, who remains incarcerated in Russia.

‘It feels so good to be home!’ Griner wrote on Instagram. ‘The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.’

Griner is pictured stepping off an airplane after being freed from Russia in a prisoner swap

Griner is pictured stepping off an airplane after being freed from Russia in a prisoner swap

Brittney Griner is pictured hugging her wife after returning to the US from Russia by way of the United Arab Emirates

Brittney Griner is pictured hugging her wife after returning to the US from Russia by way of the United Arab Emirates

Griner, who had played professionally in Russia since 2014, was returning to the country in February when she was stopped at the Moscow airport with what authorities claimed to be vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. Ultimately Griner was convicted in August and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony. A subsequent appeal was denied in October. 

She had been assigned to a penal colony in Mordovia, a region known for its brutal prison system, until the Biden administration was able to secure her release earlier his month.  

‘President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,’ she continued. ‘I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.’

The Biden administration negotiated with the Kremlin for months to get Griner and Whelan back from Russia, but only managed to get the WNBA star in exchange for Bout.

Last week, Griner and Bout crossed paths on a tarmac in the United Arab Emirates to complete the trade. Bout, referred to by some as the ‘Merchant of Death,’ was arrested on terrorism charges in 2008 and later convicted in the US. 

The deal has drawn criticism from Republicans, who were upset that the White House failed to get Whelan as well. In response to attacks from the right, White House officials acknowledged prisoner swaps are costly, adding that they felt compelled to bring Griner home while they had the chance.

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia, listens to his lawyers while standing inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on January 22, 2019. Griner said she is 'confident' that the White House can bring him home too

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of espionage and arrested in Russia, listens to his lawyers while standing inside a defendants’ cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow on January 22, 2019. Griner said she is ‘confident’ that the White House can bring him home too

Griner has been in the custody of Russian authorities since her arrest in Moscow last February

Griner has been in the custody of Russian authorities since her arrest in Moscow last February

Alleged arms smuggler Viktor Bout from Russia looks on from behind bars at a criminal court in Bangkok October 4, 2010

Alleged arms smuggler Viktor Bout from Russia looks on from behind bars at a criminal court in Bangkok October 4, 2010

GRINER’S FULL STATEMENT 

It feels so good to be home!’ Griner wrote on Instagram. ‘The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.

I am grateful to each person who advocated for me, especially my wife, Cherelle Griner, my family, Lindsay Kagawa Colas and Casey Wasserman and my whole team at Wasserman, Vince Kozar and the Phoenix Mercury, the players of the WNBA, and my entire WNBA family, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, my Russian legal team Maria Blagovolina and Alex Boykov, the leaders, activists, and grassroots organizations, Gov. Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, Roger Carstens and the SPEHA team, and of course, a special thank you to President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken and the entire Biden-Harris Administration.

President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.

As I transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family, I want to acknowledge and thank the entire PISA staff and medical team at the San Antonio Fort Hood Base. I appreciate the time and care to make sure I was okay and equipped with the tools for this new journey. I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon.

Love always,

BG #42

 

As Griner explained, she’s still in the process of making her way back home from Fort Hood in Texas, where she has been under a medical team’s observation.  

‘As I transition home to enjoy the holidays with my family, I want to acknowledge and thank the entire PISA staff and medical team at the San Antonio Fort Hood Base. I appreciate the time and care to make sure I was okay and equipped with the tools for this new journey.’

As for her basketball career, Griner will be back playing in the United States this season, which begins in May and runs through September. 

The 6-foot-9 Griner is an eight-time All-Star in the US and one of only 11 players to win an Olympic gold medal, FIBA World Cup gold medal, WNBA title, and an NCAA title, which she captured at Baylor in 2012. 

‘I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ”thank you” to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon.’

Griner also thanked a number of individuals, including her wife, Cherelle, the White House, her agents at Wasserman, as well as her legal team in Russia. 

‘I am grateful to each person who advocated for me, especially my wife, Cherelle Griner, my family, [my agents] Lindsay Kagawa Colas and Casey Wasserman and my whole team at Wasserman, [Phoenix Mercury president] Vince Kozar and the Phoenix Mercury, the players of the WNBA, and my entire WNBA family, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, my Russian legal team Maria Blagovolina and Alex Boykov, the leaders, activists, and grassroots organizations, [Former New Mexico Governor Bill] Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, Roger Carstens and the SPEHA team, and of course, a special thank you to President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary [Antony] Blinken and the entire Biden-Harris Administration.’

Cherelle Griner, wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, speaks after President Joe Biden announced Brittney Griner's release in a prisoner swap with Russia, last week

Cherelle Griner, wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, speaks after President Joe Biden announced Brittney Griner’s release in a prisoner swap with Russia, last week 

Dozens of Americans remain imprisoned overseas, and Griner has vowed to use her platform to share their stories, just as many athletes did to keep her in the news throughout her legal process in Russia. 

While the Biden administration has faced criticism for the exchange, the deal follows several similar arrangements by previous administrations. 

Former President Donald Trump brought home Navy veteran Michael White in 2020 for an Iranian-American doctor, and agreed to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for that regime releasing 1,000 of its captives. Trump would later blame the ousted government in Afghanistan for releasing the 5,000 Taliban soldiers. 

The Obama administration, too, pardoned seven Iranians in a prisoner exchange as part of the since-scrapped nuclear deal with Tehran. And in 2014, three Cuban prisoners were sent back to the Caribbean island in exchange for American Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years. 





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