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Brittney Griner's name has been all over the news lately, and for good reason. The WNBA star is currently being detained in Russia, where she plays during the off-season, after authorities claimed to have found cannabis concentrate in her vape cartridges at an airport near Moscow.
And as of Aug. 4, Brittney was found guilty by a Russian court of an attempt to smuggle illegal drugs into Russia, per The New York Times. (She previously pleaded guilty to the charges, saying that “there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”)
She was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony, according to her lawyers. A penal colony, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a settlement used to exile prisoners and keep them away from the general population. The Biden administration has proposed a prisoner swap but there's no word yet on where things stand with those negotiations.
Brittney has been detained in Russia since mid-February. Her wife Cherelle Griner and fans are pushing hard for her freedom. The U.S. State Department also called it a "wrongful detention,” per the Associated Press.
It’s understandable to have questions about Brittney and her personal life while all this news is swirling, and especially when her wife has been front and center of efforts to bring her home. So, who is Brittney’s wife and how is she trying to help Brittney? Here’s what you need to know.
Who is Brittney Griner?
Let's start off with the basics. Brittney Griner is a WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury and an Olympic gold medalist. The 31-year-old native Houstonian was a member of Team USA’s 2016 gold medal team during 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and a member of the 2014 WNBA Championship team, Phoenix Mercury, according to her WNBA bio.
She’s also won several "Player of the Year" awards and is a six-time WNBA All-Star.
Why is Brittney in Russian custody?
Brittney has been held in a Russian prison since February, when she was arrested for allegedly carrying hashish oil in her luggage through a Russian airport, per The Athletic.
In May, the U.S. State Department reclassified Brittney as being "wrongfully detained" and transferred her case to the office of the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, according to The New York Times. The change allows the U.S. government to negotiate for her release, instead of waiting for her trial to conclude.
"I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you," she wrote in the letter to Biden. "I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home."
Who is her wife Cherelle and what does she do?
What has Cherelle said about Brittney’s detainment?
Cherelle has repeatedly posted on Instagram, urging the Biden administration to take action to bring her wife home.
“I couldn’t imagine enduring this fight to get my wife home safely and quickly in my own strength!” she wrote in early June. I’m humbled that I do not have to! Every voice 𝐈𝐒 vital in the fight to get BG home.”
Cherelle’s most recent post about her wife celebrated four years together:
She hasn't posted to her Instagram grid since then, but she has posted several Stories, including various prayer vigils in honor of Brittney, and other accounts' posts supporting Brittney.
Cherelle has also spoken to the Associated Press, telling the outlet that the couple hasn't been able to speak to each other in four months, despite Griner's apparent attempts to get in touch via the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle told the Associated Press.
Cherelle hasn’t spoken publicly about Brittney’s conviction.
Brittney was sentenced to serve nine years in a penal colony in Russia on Thursday. Russian authorities say they found vape cartridges with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage when she arrived in the country in February to play basketball, per the Times.
Cherelle has not posted on Instagram since July 6, when she revealed that she spoke with President Biden about her wife’s case.
However, Cherelle spoke at a rally for her wife on July 7 and vowed not to stop fighting until her wife was freed.
“I'm frustrated that 140 days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to our family and friends. I'm frustrated that my wife is not going to get justice,” she said, per ESPN. "Talking about my wife is easy and natural for me because that's my person. However, talking about my wife in the light of her absence from her country, her safety and her humanity as a person is gut wrenching."
How is the U.S. government helping with Brittney's case?
President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Cherelle after Brittney’s personal appeal to the president via a handwritten letter, which arrived at the White House on July 4, per the Midland Daily News. In the letter, she asked Biden to not “forget about me and the other American Detainees.”
CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins tweeted that President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Cherelle on July 6, in which Biden read a draft of the letter he is planning to send to Brittney.
“The White House says Biden assured her he's working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” Collins wrote.
President Biden & VP Harris spoke with Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle Griner today. The White House says Biden assured her he's working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as Paul Whelan. Biden read her a draft of a letter he's sending to Griner.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) July 6, 2022
President Joe Biden released a statement soon after Brittney’s verdict was handed down, saying that it was “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney."
Now, they're asking to exchange Brittney for Viktor Bout, a man known as the “Merchant of Death” who sold weapons to terrorists, rebels, and militants around the world before being arrested for conspiring to kill Americans, the New York Times notes.
How did Brittney and Cherelle meet?
Brittney and Cherelle met as undergraduates at Baylor University in Texas, according to Us Weekly. However, they didn’t start dating until after Brittney split from her first wife, Glory Johnson.
Brittney paid tribute to her wife on Instagram in June 2020, noting that she will “never forget” the day she met Cherelle at Baylor.
“You tapped me on my shoulder and told me I took your milkshake (still up for debate lol) and I was immediately blown away at your beauty!” she wrote. “You had no idea but I knew you were the one for me baby. You stuck by my side at the lowest and at the highest!”
How long have they been married?
Brittney and Cherelle got married in 2019, according to Us Weekly. So, they’ve been married for about three years.
Before that, Brittney was married to fellow WNBA player Glory Johnson back in 2015. Their wedding was featured in The New York Times "Vows" column, but the romance did not last. Griner filed for an annulment only 28 days after they got married, per USA Today. Johnson had announced she was pregnant via sperm donation the day before.
The annulment was not granted, and the couple remained married until their divorce was finalized in 2016, TMZ reported.
Does Brittney have a child?
Brittney Griner has two children—twins Ava and Solei—with Glory, according to People.
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