WNBA commissioner voices support for Brittney Griner
(CNN) — Ahead of Monday’s WNBA draft, commissioner Cathy Engelbert reaffirmed the league’s commitment to helping bring Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner — who has been detained in Russia since mid-February — back home.
“I did want to start by saying we continue to be working diligently on bringing Brittney Griner home. This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in,” Engelbert said Monday in her opening remarks to reporters.
Griner, who plays for Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, was arrested by Russian authorities in February at a Moscow airport and accused of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance — an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Griner was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA draft and is one of the league’s all-time best players.
“She continues to have our full support, and she’s just been such a great person in the league. I can’t be any more real about the situation that she’s in,” Englebert said. “Certainly, we’re trying everything we can, every angle, working through with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration; just everybody in our ecosystem to try and find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can.”
Engelbert also praised WNBA players for their patience with the process and for following the advice they’ve been given.
“I know we’re all frustrated, but we do need to be patient. I know the players have been amazing at following the advice that they’re getting and we’re getting in order not to jeopardize her safety in any way. We continue to follow that advice and continue to work on it,” she said.
Two weeks ago, former WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie told the “I am Athlete” podcast that people in the “women’s basketball world” were told “to not make a big fuss about it so that they could not use (Griner) as a pawn, so to speak, in this situation in the war.”
Griner has been able to see her representative in Russia twice a week and is able to receive letters and correspondence, ESPN’s Holly Rowe reported on Monday.
In mid-March, a source close to the situation told CNN her legal team has seen her several times a week throughout her detention and they reported that she is well. About a week later, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that an official from the US embassy in Moscow visited Griner and found her in good condition.
On Monday, the commissioner also voiced her personal commitment to Griner and getting her home safely.
“I used to tell my daughter when she was little — and still now that she’s in her 20s — ‘I would go to the end of the earth to help you if you’re ever in trouble,’ and I say the same thing about Brittney Griner.”
Engelbert also announced the WNBA intends to launch a philanthropic effort in all 12 markets honoring Griner in the lead up to the 2022 season.
“While we’re working hard to get Brittney home, we will have a league-wide philanthropic initiative led by the Phoenix Mercury, honoring BG and modeled after her work,” Engelbert said.
“BG, for those that don’t know, founded an organization in 2016 called BG’s Heart and Soul Shoe Drive. The activations that we will do, the Mercury will lead, are intended to remind us of BG’s spirit of giving and do the work she’d be doing if she were here and certainly the work she will join us in when she returns.”
The WNBA season will tip off May 6.
A Moscow court announced last month it extended the arrest of Griner until May 19, according to Russian state news agency TASS. A trial date has not been set, a source close to the situation told CNN at the time.
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