Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, confirmed to news outlets that the letter was delivered to the president on Monday, July 4. The majority of the letter remains private, but Colas shared snippets of Griner’s missive.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote to Biden. “On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
She continued, “Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. 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.”
Griner has been detained in Russia for over four months. She was arrested in February after security at a Moscow-area airport allegedly found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her carry-on bag as she tried to enter the country (Griner is one of several WNBA players who plays in Russia during the off-season). Since her arrest, Griner’s pre-trial detention has been repeatedly extended, first by a month back in May, and then again earlier in June.
Last week, the trial officially started with a hearing where prosecutors detailed the case against the WNBA star. The first hearing featured testimony from two witnesses, including an employee of the Sheremetyevo airport customs services where Griner was detained after cannabis oil was discovered in her backpack. Griner is expected back in court for a second hearing on July 7.
In response to Griner’s letter, the White House National Security Council re-affirmed that the 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury player has been wrongfully detained in Russia.
“President Biden has been clear about the need to see all US nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner. The US government continues to work aggressively — using every available means — to bring her home,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement to AP. “The President’s team is in regular contact with Brittney’s family and we will continue to work to support her family.”
In a recent CNN interview, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked if Griner and another American detained in Russia — Paul Whelan, who’s serving 16 years on an espionage conviction — could be part of a swap for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout. Bout is currently serving 25 years in the U.S. for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and aiding a terrorist organization.
“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” Blinken said. But “I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority.”
Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard responded to Griner’s letter during a pre-game news conference on Monday.
“It made me cry, you know, just hearing her words talking about her father being a Vietnam vet, her new perspective on freedom, her wanting to be with her family and her teammates, her not knowing if she’ll ever be free again,” Nygaard said, adding that “it’s great that she was able to get that message to us and hopefully some people are paying attention to it.”