Ahead of Monday’s WNBA Draft, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert reaffirmed the league’s commitment to help bring Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner – who has been detained in Russia since mid-February – home.
“I wanted to start by saying that we continue to work diligently to bring Brittney Griner home. This is an unimaginable situation for BG,” Engelbert said Monday in his 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 charged with smuggling large amounts of narcotics – an offense that carries up to 10 years in prison. .
Griner was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft and is one of the league’s greatest players of all time.
“She continues to have our full support and she’s been a great person in the league. I can’t be more realistic about the situation she finds herself in,” Englebert said. “Certainly, we try everything we can, from all angles, working with its legal representation, its agent, the elected officials, the administration; just everyone in our ecosystem to try and find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as possible.
Engelbert also praised the WNBA players for their patience with the process and for following the advice given to them.
“I know we are all frustrated, but we have to be patient. I know the players have been amazing following the advice they receive and we receive so as not to compromise her safety in any way. We continue to follow this advice and 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’ had been told to ‘not make a fuss about it. so they can’t use (Griner) as a pawn, so to speak, in this war situation.
Griner has been able to see his representative in Russia twice a week and can receive letters and correspondence, ESPN’s Holly Rowe reported Monday.
In mid-March, a source close to the situation told CNN that her legal team had seen her several times a week throughout her detention and that she was doing well. About a week later, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said an official from the US Embassy in Moscow visited Griner and found her in good condition.
On Monday, the commissioner also expressed her personal commitment to Griner and her safe return home.
“I used to say to my daughter when she was little – and now she’s in her 20s – ‘I’ll go to the ends of the earth to help you if you ever get in trouble,’ and I say the same thing about Brittney Griner.
Engelbert also announced that the WNBA intends to launch a philanthropic effort in all 12 markets in honor of Griner heading into the 2022 season.
“While we work hard to bring Brittney home, we will have a league-wide philanthropic initiative led by the Phoenix Mercury, honoring BG and inspired by her work,” Engelbert said.
“BG, for those who don’t know, founded an organization in 2016 called BG’s Heart and Soul Shoe Drive. The activations we will do, Mercury will lead, are meant to remind us of BG’s spirit of giving and to do the work she would do if she were here and certainly the work she will join us in when she returns.
The WNBA season will begin on May 6.
A Moscow court announced last month that it was extending Griner’s arrest until May 19, according to Russian news agency TASS. A trial date has not been set, a source familiar with the matter told CNN at the time.