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Brittney Griner’s Status Changed To ‘Wrongfully Detained’ in Russia, Here’s What That Could Mean

Brittney Griner's face during warm-ups before a basketball game

It’s been two months since we learned that Brittney Griner, one of the biggest stars in the WNBA and an Olympic gold medalist, had been detained in Russia on charges of allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing hash oil while traveling abroad.

It’s pretty common for WNBA players to compete in Russia during the American off-season. Griner had been playing there for years before being detained back in late February, though news of her detention wasn’t made public until days later, after the Putin launched the massive invasion of Ukraine—giving the impression that Russia was looking to use Griner’s detention as some sort of political leverage or collateral.

Even after news of Griner’s detention broke, the story received maddeningly little coverage. Much of that was very clearly rooted in gender dynamics, from the amount of attention stories about Black women garner to the fact that the underpayment of female athletes drives them to moonlight abroad in the first place, in a way male athletes typically do not need to.

But Griner’s team was also deliberately keeping a low profile, appearing not to want to risk making her a bargaining chip in the escalating attack on Ukraine. While her agent, the WNBA, and American officials assured the public that work was being done to bring Griner home, it was being done very quietly.

Now, more than two months later, the U.S. has officially changed Griner’s status in Russia as being “wrongfully detained.”

According to ESPN, which first broke the news Wednesday, “officials and other sources close to Griner’s case declined to say what led to the shift or whether there have been any discussions about what it would take to secure her release.”

The outlet writes:

“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement to ESPN on Tuesday.

The change in official designation means that the U.S. government will no longer wait for Griner’s case to play out through the Russian legal system and will seek to negotiate her return. It also means that Griner’s fellow WNBA players and supporters in Congress will be told they have the family’s blessing to bring as much attention to her case as they wish.

“We feel really good about it,” a source close to Griner told ESPN. “But we also know it can drag out, so we don’t want to get our hopes too high.”

So basically, so far, Griner’s case had been monitored by US agencies without interference. Now that her situation has been reclassified, they can and presumably will start taking action.

ESPN says the WNBA has called the move “a positive development and a next step to getting her home.” Here’s hoping. We’ll keep our eye on this story and update with any developments.

(via ESPN, image: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.