Home The prisoner exchange and the backlash: WNBA star Brittney Griner’s return to U.S.

The prisoner exchange and the backlash: WNBA star Brittney Griner’s return to U.S.

Rebecca Barnabi
Brittney Griner
(© Keeton Gale – Shutterstock)

WNBA star Brittney Griner was released one week ago after being handed a nine-year prison sentence in Russia.

She is at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for a routine medical examination before returning to her Arizona home with her wife, Cherelle Griner.

But Griner’s release, as part of a prisoner exchange where “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout was returned to Russia after serving 10 years of a 20-year sentence in the U.S., has sparked controversy.

The prisoner exchange took place in the United Arab Emirates.

U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remains in Russia serving a 16-year sentence based on charges of being an American spy. Whelan has served four years of the sentence. President Joe Biden said today the choice was not about which American to bring home. Whelan is disappointed the Biden administration has not done more to secure his release.

“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan. We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release,” Biden said.

Whelan, 53, said he was arrested for a crime he did not commit.

Griner, 32, was detained at a Moscow airport in mid-February after a vape cartridge containing cannabis oil was found in her luggage. Although she had an American doctor’s recommendation for the medication, she was arrested and sentenced August 4 to serve nine years in a Russian penal colony. An appeal in late October was denied.

A center for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, Griner was traveling in Russia because she played for the UMMC Ekaterinburg in Yekaterinburg, the third largest city in Russia, during off seasons.

Cherelle Griner took to social media after her wife’s release to thank everyone involved in making the basketball player’s release and return home possible. According to the New York Post, Cherelle posted that the couple is on a “journey to heal.”

“As BG and I start our journey to heal our minds, bodies, and spirits — I wanted to personally say thank you to some of the hands; seen and unseen, that helped make it possible for me to see my wife again!” Cherelle posted on Instagram Sunday.

Griner, an Olympic gold medalist, dunked a basketball on a court at the San Antonio base, but her return to the Phoenix Mercury remains uncertain.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.