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Wife of Brittney Griner speaks on WNBA star’s detention in Russia

(NEW YORK) — Cherelle Griner, the wife of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner, who has been detained in a Russian prison for nearly 100 days, spoke on Tuesday in an interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Griner told GMA co-anchor Robin Roberts that the support her wife has gotten from the league has brought the WNBA star “comfort” amid her detention in Russia.

The WNBA, which kicked off its 2022 season on May 6, is honoring Griner with a floor decal bearing her initials and jersey number (42) on the sideline of all 12 WNBA teams.

“Things like that matter, like, it has her hopeful,” Cherelle Griner told Roberts. “It lets her know she’s not forgotten.”

“Those small moments, I know, give her some type of hope,” she added.

Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was visiting Russia in February to play basketball during the off-season when she was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil — an illegal substance in Russia.

She was charged with “large-scale transportation of drugs” and could face up to 10 years in prison, according to The New York Times.

Cherelle Griner said that her wife texted her when she was first taken into custody, but Brittney’s phone was taken soon after.

She has not spoken with her for nearly 100 days, but they’ve communicated “sporadically” through letters, Cherelle Griner said.

“[Brittney] wrote me one letter and was like, ‘Babe, I know you wanna go down right now but like, don’t just yet,"” she said.

“I won’t go down until she’s back … Every single day matters for me to be sound, for me to be alert, for me to be attentive, to make sure that she comes back,” she added.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began one week after Griner was detained on Feb. 17. Some officials are concerned that Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing conflict.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Friday that a U.S. consular officer was able to meet with Griner on Thursday, May 19, for the second time in a week.

Price said the official “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.”

“But again, our message is a clear and simple one — we continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees,” he added. “One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access, as well.”

Price said that he spoke with Cherelle Griner earlier this month by phone, assuring her that the administration was doing everything it could to ensure the WNBA player’s release.

Cherelle Griner said that she also spoke with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and was “grateful” for the call.

“You say she’s top priority, but I wanna see it, and I feel like to see it would be me seeing BG on U.S. soil,” she said.

Calls to free Brittney Griner escalated following the release of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed last month, who was freed from a Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange. Former Marine Paul Whelan has also been detained in Russia since 2019.

The U.S. government classified Griner’s case on May 3 as “wrongfully detained” in Russia, which means that the U.S. would work to negotiate her release, as opposed to letting her case play out in the Russian legal system.

Cherelle Griner said that she would like to speak with President Joe Biden.

“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn,” she said.

“So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it,” she added.

Griner’s pre-trial detention in Russia was extended by one month on May 13, as the United States works to secure her freedom.

Alexander Boikov, Griner’s lawyer, told ABC News on May 13 that Griner’s pre-trial detention has been extended until June 18.

Russian media have reported that the U.S. and Russia are discussing the possibility of exchanging Griner for Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was convicted in the U.S.

Boikov said he does not have any information on a possible exchange.

Griner’s trip to Russia to play off-season has underscored the issue of pay inequality in professional basketball.

Many WNBA players have traveled around the world to play in the off-season because they don’t make enough money during the season — an issue that is not as prevalent for NBA players who are paid more. The top WNBA salary is $228K, whereas star NBA players can make at least $1 million a year.

Asked if the issue has impacted her wife, Cherelle Griner said, “Absolutely.”

“BG would wholeheartedly love to not go overseas. She has only had one Thanksgiving in the States in nine years since she’s been pro, and she misses all that stuff. Just because, you know, she can’t make enough money in the WNBA, like, to sustain her life,” she said.

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