WNBA superstar Britney Griner vowed never to play basketball abroad again in an emotional first press conference on Thursday since being released from Russia as part of a prisoner exchange last year.
As he prepares to resume his career with the Phoenix Mercury in Arizona, Griner has vowed to continue fighting for those illegally detained around the world.
When asked what his message would be to Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovic and U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who are detained in Russia, Griner replied, “Everyone unjustly detained in the world I want to say to people in the US: ‘Stay strong, keep fighting,'” he said. Do not give up”.
“Just keep pushing because we are not going to stop. We are not going to stop fighting. We are not going to stop bringing awareness to all who are left behind right now. “
With tears in his eyes when asked about his ordeal, Griner said the lessons he learned during his basketball career helped him build resilience during his time in prison, including his time in a Russian penal colony.
“You know, I’m going through a difficult time,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
“You just dig deeper. You’re going to face adversity all your life, and this was pretty big.
“But I was relying on my hard work and getting through it. I know this sounds so small, but actually dying and training hard find ways to crush it and Keep your head down and keep going. Keep moving forward.”
– Wage gap dilemma –
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion and LGBTQ trailblazer, Griner was arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport in February 2022 amid mounting tensions in Ukraine.
When she was arrested, Griner was playing for the Russian professional team, as many WNBA players do in the offseason.
She was sentenced in August to nine years in prison after being accused of possessing an e-cigarette cartridge containing a small amount of cannabis oil.
Although she pleaded guilty, she had no intention of breaking the law or using substances banned in Russia.
Greiner was eventually released as part of a deal exchanged in December for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death.”
She defended underfunded players trying to supplement their salaries with overseas contracts during the WNBA offseason.
But the 32-year-old said she would never play basketball abroad after being incarcerated.
“Unless I represent my country at the Olympics, I can assure you that I will never play abroad again,” Griner said. “If I make that team, it will be my only chance to leave American soil – to represent the United States.
“The reason many of us go abroad is all because of the wage gap. Many of us go abroad for income to support our families.So I want to go abroad and earn a little extra. I don’t knock on players who think it’s money.”
Griner, meanwhile, said the knowledge that efforts were being made to secure her release while incarcerated helped her during her stay in Russia.
“It definitely made me a little bit more comfortable when I was just able to see what was going on when I just knew it and didn’t know anything about it,” she said.
“It gave me hope. It’s a difficult thing to have, and it’s a dangerous thing to have because when it doesn’t work out, it’s very devastating.”
Griner’s remarks on Thursday suggested that the US government has told Russian FSB intelligence and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to take “hostages” Americans like journalist Gershkovic, who has been charged with espionage by Russia. It was done when they added new sanctions for what they did.
“The United States will never stop working to secure the release of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage and to reunite them with their loved ones,” Secretary of State Anthony Brinken said in a statement.
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/wnba-star-griner-urges-us-detainees-in-russia-to-stay-strong/news-story/1d57ea565f969a664509e2a01009b763 Greiner vows to never play abroad again, fight for US prisoners