WNBA Star Detained in Russia for Alleged Drug Possession

(Sean D. Elliot/The Day via AP)

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been arrested and detained in Russia on drug charges.

The 31-year-old Phoenix Mercury star and Olympian has played in Russia during WNBA’s off-seasons for almost seven years. Female basketball players can make exponentially more money playing abroad, and it is not uncommon for both male and female athletes to play for foreign teams to earn extra money and keep themselves in playing form during their breaks.


The WBNA has confirmed that the nearly dozen female athletes recently playing in Ukraine and Russia have returned home safely, but last month, Griner was detained by Russian customs after a search of her bag revealed several vape cartridges. Authorities claim the cartridges contained a cannabis-based substance.

The Russian Customs Service said Saturday that the cartridges were identified as containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The customs service identified the person arrested as a player for the U.S. women’s team and did not specify the date of her arrest. Russian media reported the player was Griner, and her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, did not dispute those reports.

Russia is not known for their friendly attitude towards minorities, particularly black minorities. Griner’s situation would be frightening in any period, but with international tensions high, it feels like an especially concerning situation, regardless of Griner’s alleged infractions. Ten years in a Russian prison for some vape cartridges, especially for a black American woman, seems like a terrifying prospect, and Putin’s government is not keen to appease American requests these days.

Griner’s agent says they continue to stay in touch with Griner and her Russian legal representation and are monitoring the situation from home.


“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,” Kagawa Colas said Saturday. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”

The State Department has issued a “do not travel” warning regarding Russia.

On Saturday, the State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory for Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine and urged all U.S. citizens to depart immediately, citing factors including “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and “the Embassy’s limited ability to assist” Americans in Russia.

There is no word yet on whether or not diplomatic efforts have been engaged on behalf of Griner.


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