Gold medalist, WNBA star Brittney Griner in custody in Russia
Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA All-Star, is in custody in Russia after vape cartridges containing hashish oil were found in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo Airport, just outside Moscow.
The Russian Federal Customs Service released a video showing a traveler who appears to be the 6-foot-9 Griner going through security at the airport, while only stating the detainee was a two-time Olympic basketball champion as part of the U.S. national team. The Russian news service TASS identified the player as Griner, the New York Times reported.
The arrest was made in February when Griner entered the Russian airport, according to the statement from the customs service. An exact date was not specified. That statement goes on to say a criminal case has been opened into the “large scale” transportation of drugs, a charge that can carry up to a 10-year jail sentence.
Griner, a member of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinberg during the WNBA offseason for several years. WNBA players commonly play for a second team because those European and Russian teams often pay far better than the WNBA (Griner reportedly makes more than four times her WNBA salary from her Russian club).
The Phoenix Mercury and USA Basketball released these statements:
USA Basketball is aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia. Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns.— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) March 5, 2022
Griner’s arrest comes amid a backdrop of high tension between the United States and Russia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia has a pattern in recent years of detaining and sometimes sentencing American citizens on what American officials say are trumped-up charges, according to the Times.
The WNBA reported that all of its other players who had been in Russia are safely out of the country.
The U.S. State Department has issued a “do not travel” travel advisory for Russia stating that “U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately.”
Griner is one of the top female basketball players in the world and was a critical part of Team USA winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Griner also won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and has been at the heart of a WNBA title-contending team in Phoenix for the past seven seasons.
For full news coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, visit NBCNews.com.