Brittney Griner: Wife Cherelle Urges Pres. Biden frees WNBA star from Russian prison during Good Morning America interview

Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle, wants President Joe Biden to ensure her partner’s release and do whatever is necessary to bring the WNBA star home from Russia, where she has been imprisoned for more than three months.

“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn,” said Cherelle, who emotionally spoke about how little she knows about Griner’s incarceration during an interview that aired Wednesday on Good Morning America. “So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, I want you to do it.”

The Phoenix Mercury Center has been in jail since February 17 after vape cartridges containing cannabis-derived oil were allegedly found in their luggage at an airport near Moscow.

The 31-year-old Griner – a two-time US Olympic gold medalist – faces a charge of drug smuggling with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Earlier this month, the Biden administration said Griner was being wrongly imprisoned.

Cherelle has discussed Griner’s case with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but not with the President.

“I was grateful for the call, you say she’s a top priority but I want to see it. And I want to see that I would see BG on US soil,” Cherelle said in her first public interview. “At this point, if she comes back, I don’t even know who I’ll get back.”

RELATED: Brittney Griner faces wrongful detention in Russia, US officials say

Russian officials have labeled Griner’s case a criminal offense without making any political associations. But Moscow’s war in Ukraine has pushed US-Russia relations to their lowest post-Cold War levels.

Despite the strain, last month Russia and the United States carried out an unexpected prisoner swap – ex-Marine Trevor Reed was swapped for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

While the US doesn’t typically welcome such a swap, it made the deal in part because Yaroshenko had already served a long chunk of his sentence.

The Russians might consider Griner as someone who could participate in another such exchange.

Alongside Griner, another American suspected of being unjustly imprisoned in Russia is Paul Whelan, a security officer from Michigan. Whelan was arrested in December 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on spying charges that his family believed were wrong.

SEE MORE: ‘I Fought’: Trevor Reed Opens Up About Surviving Nearly 3 Years In Russian Prison

“Even though they’re separate people, separate roles, no connection other than what they’re going through in Russia, you know, of course I want him back too,” Cherelle said. “You don’t want someone to be there going through what they’re going through.”

Cherelle, who graduated from North Carolina Central University law school earlier this month, has not spoken to Griner on the phone since the day she was first arrested.

“Actually, I first heard the news from Brittney. She started texting me around 2am that morning,” Cherelle said. “‘Babe. Babe. Babe. Wake up. You’ve got me in this room. I don’t know what’s going on.’ And so I immediately text back: ‘Who are you and what room?’”

Cherelle said Griner replied and texted: “The customs officers. They grabbed me just as I was walking through and they have me in this room.” Griner then sent a message that read, “You’re about to take my phone.”

Cherelle said she told Griner to call her when she could. Almost 100 days later, she’s still waiting for that call.

“For the first week, I lay on this couch and cried my eyeballs out. I was stunned. I couldn’t move,” Cherelle said. “And then I said, ‘You have to get up now.'”

SEE ALSO: US Embassy Moscow Says WNBA Players ‘In Good Condition’

Cherelle and Brittney communicate through letters and their attorneys. The attorneys print out articles to show Griner so she can keep up.

Initially, friends and teammates of Griner’s were reluctant to speak out about her situation for fear of disrupting ongoing negotiations for her release. However, they began to speak cautiously ahead of the Women’s Final Four in early April when their incarceration gained more national attention.

Cherelle got emotional as she spoke about the support and how she’s helping Griner stay strong during the fight for her release. The WNBA acknowledged the absence of the 6-foot-9 Mercury center by placing a sticker with their initials and number on the home floor of all 12 teams.

“It’s comforting to BG,” Cherelle said. “It lets her know she’s not forgotten and … if you’re sitting over there, your country is … they haven’t … come to your rescue yet.” I know it makes her feel good because she doesn’t want to be forgotten.

“Things like that are important, it makes them hopeful,” Cherelle added. “It lets her know she’s not forgotten. I know those little moments give her a kind of hope.”

Cherelle said Griner’s experience in Russia before imprisonment had been great for the past nine years. She returned to the country after the Russian league for the FIBA ​​World Cup qualifying tournament went on hiatus when she was arrested.

“You know you’re a GOAT when you can actually play in Russia… on the team that BG plays for,” Cherelle said. “They treat them like superstars.”

Griner, who won an NCAA championship at Baylor, makes over $1 million playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg to supplement her WNBA earnings, where she earns the maximum base salary of $228,000. Elite players like Griner can earn up to $500,000 from their salaries, bonuses, and WNBA marketing deals.

“BG would love with all my heart not to go abroad,” Cherelle said. “She’s only had one Thanksgiving in the (United) States in nine years since she’s turned pro.”

The WNBA and US officials have been working towards their release with no visible progress. A US consular official was able to meet with Griner last week.

“We discovered that a consular officer from our embassy in Moscow was able to visit Brittney Griner that day on the sidelines of her court hearing in Moscow,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday. “We have indicated that, in our view, one-off consular visits are not enough.

“But not only in our view, but also in the requirements of the Vienna Convention and other bilateral agreements, we provide that we should have regular and sustained access to Americans detained around the world, including those on remand.”

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Brittney Griner: Wife Cherelle Urges Pres. Biden frees WNBA star from Russian prison during Good Morning America interview

Dais Johnston

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