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Brittney Griner’s wife breaks down while discussing WNBA star’s Russian imprisonment

WNBA star Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle has opened up about her devastation over the basketball player’s Russian imprisonment for the first time – while calling on President Biden to ‘do something’ to bring the 31-year-old home. 

Nearly 100 days after the two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested at a Moscow airport for possession of cannabis-infused vaporizer cartridges, her wife made a passionate plea with Biden’s administration to do whatever it takes in order to free Griner and bring her back to the US. 

Speaking with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts and ESPN‘s Angela Rye in her first on-air interviews since her wife was detained, Cherelle Griner broke down in tears as she shared the WNBA star’s fears that she will be ‘forgotten’ by politicians,  

‘There is one person that can go get her, and that’s our President,’ Cherelle told ESPN. 

‘He has that power. You know, I’m just like, “Why are we not using it? Like, urgently, use it.” We’re expecting him to use his power to get it done.’

She added to GMA’s Roberts: ‘Absolutely [I want to speak with President Biden]. I just keep hearing that he has the power, she’s a political pawn, so if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.’

Breaking down in tears, Cherelle – who wed Griner in 2019 – added: ‘Obviously, you know, when you’re sitting over there and your country, they haven’t come to your rescue yet… She doesn’t want to be forgotten.’ 

WNBA star Brittney Griner’s wife Cherelle has spoken out about the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s imprisonment in Russia for the first time in an emotional on-air interview  

Cherelle Griner broke down in tears as she shared her wife's fear that she will be 'forgotten' - while calling on President Joe Biden to 'urgently use his power... to go and get her'

Cherelle Griner broke down in tears as she shared her wife's fear that she will be 'forgotten' - while calling on President Joe Biden to 'urgently use his power... to go and get her'

Cherelle Griner broke down in tears as she shared her wife’s fear that she will be ‘forgotten’ – while calling on President Joe Biden to ‘urgently use his power… to go and get her’

Griner (seen in a mugshot) was arrested at Moscow airport on February 17 for allegedly bringing vape cartridges containing hash oil - which is illegal in Russia - into the country

Griner (seen in a mugshot) was arrested at Moscow airport on February 17 for allegedly bringing vape cartridges containing hash oil – which is illegal in Russia – into the country 

Her desperate on-air plea comes less than two weeks after Russia extended Griner’s pre-trial detention for a month, despite the White House insisting that she is being illegally detained by authorities. 

Speaking about the moment that her wife was taken into custody, Cherelle revealed to Roberts that she learned of Griner’s arrest via text shortly after she had been detained by customs agents at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. 

‘I first heard the news through Brittney, actually,’ she shared. ‘She started texting me [at] around 2 a.m. that morning [saying], “Babe, babe, babe, wake up, they have me in this room, I don’t know what’s going on.” 

‘So I instantly text back: “Who are they and what room?” And she’s like, “The customs people, they just grabbed me as I was going through and they have me in this room.” 

Cherelle - seen with her wife in an Instagram shot - said she has not been able to speak with Griner since she was taken into custody almost 100 days ago

Cherelle – seen with her wife in an Instagram shot – said she has not been able to speak with Griner since she was taken into custody almost 100 days ago 

‘[Then] she sent me a message and said, “They’re about to take my phone, don’t text anymore.” So I’m like, “Just call me when you can.” That was it. 

‘We’re what, 96 days [later]? And the phone call never came.’

Griner was arrested at Moscow airport on February 17 for allegedly bringing vape cartridges containing hash oil – which is illegal in Russia – into the country.

Russian officials say her arrest is based on ‘objective facts and evidence’, saying in a statement obtained by CNN: ‘She was caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil. In Russia, this is a crime.’

Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the US but was in Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg on a reported $1 million contract, could face up to 10 years in a labor camp for drug smuggling. 

The WNBA star pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Moscow court in April – and days later her case was handed over to the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), which negotiates the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.

But while Biden’s administration has insisted that the WNBA star is being illegally detained – with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling Cherelle that bringing Griner home is a ‘top priority’ – Cherelle insists that she the government needs to puts its money where its mouth is and take real action in order to free her wife. 

I don’t know [if I feel that she’s top priority],’ she told GMA. ‘I was grateful for the call [from Senator Blinken]. But you say she’s top priority… I want to see it. And I feel like to see it would be me seeing [Brittney] on US soil.’

The WNBA star - who was in Russia playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg on a reported $1million contract - was last seen on May 13 when her pre-trial detention was extended by one month

The WNBA star – who was in Russia playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg on a reported $1million contract – was last seen on May 13 when her pre-trial detention was extended by one month

Cherelle said that she first learned her wife had been arrested via text, recalling: 'She started texting me [at] around 2 a.m. that morning [saying], "Babe, babe, babe, wake up, they have me in this room, I don't know what's going on"'

Cherelle said that she first learned her wife had been arrested via text, recalling: ‘She started texting me [at] around 2 a.m. that morning [saying], “Babe, babe, babe, wake up, they have me in this room, I don’t know what’s going on”‘

She added of her wife’s experience in a Russian jail: ‘At this point I don’t even know who I’m getting back when she comes back.’

In the months since Griner was detained, her wife has only been able to communicate with her ‘sporadically’ via letters – in which she said the WNBA star has urged her ‘not to go down’. 

‘[We’ve been able to communicate through letters] sporadically, here and there. I’m grateful for even that,’ she said. ‘I’m OK, because you have to be technically. She wrote me one letter and was like, “Babe I know you want to go down right now but don’t just yet.” 

‘Every day you wake up and the fact that you’re still in that reality is a reason to lose faith and to not have hope in all of the above. It gives you so much reason to go down. 

‘I won’t go down until she’s back. I just won’t, I can’t, I can’t. Every single day matters for me to be sound, for me to be alert, for me to be attentive, to make sure she comes back, you know. But it’s hard. It’s hard.’

Speaking to ESPN, Cherelle admitted that one of the hardest things she’s had to endure has been relying on people she has only known for a matter of weeks to relay information about her wife’s condition. 

‘I’m in a position of complete vulnerability right now. I have to trust people that I didn’t even know until February 17 [when Griner was detained],’ she said. 

‘So I’m trusting her lawyers… [I’m asking them:] “How does she look? How is her spirit? How is her energy?” I’m just asking all those questions, trying to just get some type of indication or vibe.’

After repeated requests, a State Department official in Moscow was granted consular access to Griner last month and the basketball player, who was the first draft pick for the WNBA, was in ‘good condition.’

Griner (seen at the 2020 Olympics) plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the US, but has also been playing professionally in Russia to make 'enough money to fund her life', Cherelle said

Griner (seen at the 2020 Olympics) plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the US, but has also been playing professionally in Russia to make ‘enough money to fund her life’, Cherelle said

The WNBA paid tribute to Griner at the start of its season earlier this month by putting 'BG 42' logos on all of the courts of all 12 teams in the league (seen on Chicago Sky court)

The WNBA paid tribute to Griner at the start of its season earlier this month by putting ‘BG 42’ logos on all of the courts of all 12 teams in the league (seen on Chicago Sky court) 

Cherelle said that the WNBA on-court tribute has likely brought 'comfort' to Griner because it helps her to 'know she's not forgotten'

Cherelle said that the WNBA on-court tribute has likely brought ‘comfort’ to Griner because it helps her to ‘know she’s not forgotten’ 

‘We were able to check on her condition, we will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly,’ a representative said at the time.

‘Our official found Brittney Griner to be in good condition and we will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.’

Her only issue was that the prison beds in the jail were reportedly too short for her 6-foot-9 frame.

‘The beds in the cell are clearly designed for a shorter person,’ activist Ekaterina Kalugina, a member of human rights watchdog Public Monitoring Commission – a semi-official body with access to Russian prisons – told the outlet last week after allegedly visiting the facility where Griner is being held.

Russian officials have also extended her detention until May 19 while they investigate the charges.

Law expert Peter Maggs said the Russian government has been known to plant drugs on people ‘if the regime wanted to get them in trouble.’

US government officials and Griner’s own agency have hesitated to say too much about her situation, perhaps because doing so could give the Russian government more incentive to keep her imprisoned.

Griner won Olympic gold medals with the US national teams in 2016 and 2021 and is a seven-time All-Star who also plays center for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA but was drawn to the Russian league for the higher salaries.

Of her wife’s decision to play professionally in Russia, Cherelle decried the pay inequity between female and male basketball stars in the US, suggesting that Griner only ever sought out a contract overseas because she wasn’t making enough money to ‘sustain her life’ within the WNBA. 

‘BG [Brittney] would wholeheartedly love to not go overseas,’ she told GMA. ‘She has only had one Thanksgiving in the States in nine years since she’s been pro, and she misses all that stuff just because, you know, she can’t make enough money in the WNBA to sustain her life.’

Prior to Griner’s arrest, Cherelle said that the basketball pro had only ever had positive experiences playing in Russia, where she said the players are treated ‘like superstars’.  

Earlier this month, the WNBA paid tribute to Griner by unveiling BG 42 logos on the courts of all 12 teams in its leagues – a move that Cherelle said will likely have brought the basketball star ‘comfort’ because it helps her to know that she has not been ‘forgotten’. 

‘Yes [it has been comforting to see them]. But I think more specifically it comforts BG and lets her know she’s not forgotten,’ she shared. 


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