Brittney Griner is home. The WNBA star touched down on U.S. soil early Friday morning at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, ending a nearly year-long fight for her freedom after she was arrested and convicted of drug smuggling in Russia.
In new photos, Griner is seen walking down the steps of a private jet shortly after it arrived.
“So happy to have Brittney back on U.S. soil. Welcome home BG!” Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens tweeted.
Griner, who has been held in Russia for 10 months on drug charges, was released from custody Thursday as part of a one-for-one prisoner swap negotiated by the U.S. State Department for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. According to CBS News, the long-discussed exchange was approved by President Joe Biden within the past week.
“We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to President Biden and his administration for the tireless work they did to bring Brittney home. We would also like to extend a special thank you to Governor Richardson and Mickey Bergman of the Richardson Center for their work, as well as remaining in constant communication with us,” the Griner family said in a statement to Rolling Stone.
“We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers — including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support for Brittney and our family during what we know is a heartbreaking time. We pray for Paul and for the swift and safe return of all wrongfully-detained Americans.”
Griner, who plays basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested by Russian authorities in February after two cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her carry-on luggage. The two-time Olympic gold medalist pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges but claimed she did not intend to bring the vape cartridges into Russia, stating that she packed them by mistake. Maria Blagovolina, one of Griner’s lawyers in Russia, argued that the basketball star’s doctor-prescribed use of marijuana for chronic pain indicates she “may have used it for medical but not recreational purposes.”
In October, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison, and though she appealed the conviction, she lost.
A day before Griner landed in the U.S., Biden delivered remarks from the White House about the athlete’s release alongside her wife, Cherelle Griner.
“Moments ago, standing together with her wife Cherelle in the Oval Office, I spoke with Brittney Griner. She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances,” the president said.
Cherelle also spoke during the press conference, saying, “Over the last nine months, you all have been so privy to one of the darkest moments of my life, and so today I am just standing here overwhelmed with emotions, but the most important emotion I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration.”
“Thank you everybody for your support, and today’s just a happy day for me and my family, so I’m gonna smile right now,” Cherelle added. “Thank you.”