It seemed like the moment after the Las Vegas Aces defeated the Connecticut Sun on Sept. 18 to claim their first WNBA Championship, the lights dimmed on women’s basketball and the attention faded on the league’s biggest star – imprisoned Brittney Griner.
The warmup T-Shirts demanding “Free BG” aren’t being captured by the television camera to keep her imprisonment in Russia at the forefront. The stories of her plight have been reduced to filler news.
But Griner, who has been held captive in Moscow since February and has been sentenced to nine years in prison for attempting to board a flight home with less than one gram of cannabis oil, has not been forgotten. The two-time U.S. Olympic champion and Houston native was just no longer headline news.
That, however, began to change this past week as Griner and her imprisonment resurfaced on national news after her wife, Cherelle Griner, candidly discussed Griner’s mental and emotional state with CBS news anchor Gayle King as she awaits her long-term destination to begin serving her lengthy sentence.
Cherelle has had two conversations with the former Nimitz and Baylor standout since her detainment. The first was upbeat. The most recent talk was anything but.
“You could hear that she was not okay. If you think about just a person’s suffering and when they have suffered to a max…she was at the max that day,” Cherelle told King.
But that wasn’t it for headline-grabbing news on Griner. This past weekend, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he was optimistic that Griner and ex-U.S. Marine Paul Whalen would both be freed from their Russian imprisonments by the end of the year.
This comes as we await Griner’s Oct. 25 appeal hearing that isn’t expected to yield any positive results. A prison labor camp assignment seems imminent.
So Richardson’s prediction may be the most tangible prospect for Griner’s freedom. Richardson, who isn’t working on the behalf of the U.S. government or the White House, says he had discussions about Griner and Whelan during his recent visit to Russia.
“I do think so. Now, I hate making predictions, but yes,” Richardson responded to CNN when asked if he believes Griner and Whalen could be released before the year is out.
These are the actions that we know of because of recent headlines. We also know the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House have engaged in discussions with Russia about some sort of prisoner swap involving Griner and Whelan.
But where that all stands seem to be a mystery as the U.S. remains at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion and attempted takeover of Ukraine.
It’s seemed from the beginning that Griner’s imprisonment, which now is described by the government as wrongfully detained, is more political than anything and that she is nothing more than a pawn in Putin’s in direct conflict with the U.S.
This is why the Biden administration has mostly been silent on the subject of Griner as have her closest family and friends here in Houston and around the country. There is a delicate balance between keeping her name and imprisonment out front and not wanting to make her even more of a target in the political fight.
But there does seem to be a great deal still happening in the background. The U.S. Justice Department and White House are said to have made a substantial trade proposal that Russia has neither accepted nor made a counter offer to this point.
Biden has met with Griner’s finally to offer support and to let them know Griner hasn’t been forgotten.
“He’s doing what he can. But there’s another party in this situation, and we also are dealing with the need for Russia to have mercy on B.G. as well,” Cherelle said in the interview with CBS.
The waiting game, of course, has those closest to Griner on edge.
“B.G. has truly suffered beyond her crime already,” Cherelle said.