A Free Brittney

WNBA Star Brittney Griner Officially Released From Russian Custody, 10 Months After Arrest

WNBA star Brittney Griner has officially been released from prison. After 10 months within Russia, Griner is on her way back to the states. President Biden confirmed the news Thursday morning.

Griner’s release comes in the form of a prisoner swap between her and Viktor Bout. The international arms dealer was initially a part of a 2-for-1 exchange for Griner and U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained since 2018. Bout, nicknamed “Merchant of Death”, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring to kill U.S. citizens and for selling weapons to terrorists in Colombia.

“Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along,” Biden stated in a press conference.

Griner was arrested in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February where authorities found vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian penal colony, where she was transported earlier in November. 

In May, the United States government classified Griner as “wrongfully detained”, which ushered in the prisoner swap process. While the initial exchange consisted of Griner and Whelan for Bout, conversations between U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov stalled after the offer wasn’t accepted by Lavrov. 

However, a deal to exchange Griner for Bout was accepted.

“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan,” Biden added at the press conference. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home…Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up.”

This deal sends Griner home, just in time for the holidays. 

“It’s just a happy day for me and my family,” Cherelle Griner, the WNBA star’s wife said. “I’m gonna smile right now.”

While her release closes the book on a terrifying ordeal endured by the U.S. athlete, it still leaves open conversations on gender pay inequities within the sports industry that drove Griner to play basketball in Russia to supplement her income.

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