Civil rights, advocacy groups call on Biden to make deal for Brittney Griner's release

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Nearly 50 civil and human rights organizations sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday urging President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to make a deal and bring Brittney Griner back to the United States.

"We join Brittney’s family, friends, colleagues, and loved ones in deep appreciation of your Administration’s ongoing efforts to secure her freedom," the organizations wrote in the one-page letter. "The U.S. Government has acknowledged that Brittney is essentially a political pawn in classifying her as wrongfully detained. While these have been critically important measures, we now urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely."

The letter is signed by 42 organizations, including the WNBA Players Association (WNBPA), the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA), the Women's Sports Foundation and the National Women's Law Center. Also included are organizations focused on Black rights, LGBTQA+ advocacy, women's associations and national centers for civil rights. They noted in the letter that she represents the largest celebrations happening this month, including the 50th anniversary of Title IX on Thursday.

"This month our nation honors America’s diverse journey towards freedom, equality, and justice for all with the observation of the Juneteenth Federal holiday, the 50th anniversary of landmark Title IX legislation, and LGBTQ+ Pride. Brittney’s intersectional identity embodies this celebration of America’s strength and diversity. As a celebrated world-class athlete, she also demonstrates the uniquely unifying power of sports. Brittney’s ongoing detention threatens the sanctity of sport and the safety of all athletes traveling to compete internationally."

Griner's detainment reaches 125 days

A fan holds up a sign urging other fans to call and pressure the White House to free seven-time WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner from Russian custody during the second half of a WNBA basketball game between the New York Liberty and the Seattle Storm, Sunday, June 19, 2022, in New York. The Storm won 81-72. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
A fan holds up a sign urging other fans to call and pressure the White House to free seven-time WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner from Russian custody during the second half of a WNBA basketball game between the New York Liberty and the Seattle Storm, Sunday, June 19, 2022, in New York. The Storm won 81-72. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 when she flew to Moscow, Russia, to re-join her UMMC Ekaterinburg club out of the international break. The Phoenix Mercury center has played with the club in the WNBA offseason for a few years now, joining most of the league in supplementing their five-to-low-six figure salaries with ones five-times as large. She has won four Euroleague championships and seven Russian League titles.

"Like many WNBA athletes, Brittney plays abroad during the offseason both for the love of the sport and to supplement her income because of the significant pay gap even the best WNBA athletes face," the organizations wrote in the letter.

Russian custom officials alleged she had vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She is under investigation for large-scale transportation of drugs and faces up to 10 years in Russian prison if convicted. The U.S. changed her status to "wrongfully detained" last month, a significant development that moved her case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Friends and family were then encouraged to talk about her case and the U.S. government can work on her release.

Her pre-trial detention was extended for a third time this month and now runs through July 2, according to Russian state media. Her case still does not have a trial date and she has been detained for 125 days as of June 23. An expert on Russian military and political strategy told Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg he believes the legal proceedings are a negotiation tactic made to look legitimate. Experts have cautioned it could take months for Griner to be released.

Players, fans push for Griner's release

Griner, 31, was named an honorary WNBA All-Star starter on Wednesday, the league announced. The WNBPA shared a tweet of the news with the hashtag, "#WeAreNotThe144WithoutBG." She has been named an All-Star seven times prior and was named to the WNBA's 25th anniversary team last year as one of its 25 greatest players. Players continue to speak out about her detainment after games and on social media.

Cities have held rallies to bring attention to her situation. Fans did so at the Footprint Center, where the Mercury play, this week as well as in Harlem, New York. Trevor Reed, who spent nearly three years as a Russian prisoner and was recently freed, spoke at a rally in Houston earlier this month and explained what conditions are like as a prisoner in Russia, particularly for a prisoner like Griner.

"A government that systemically discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual people under Vladimir Putin and those things obviously are going to make Brittney's time there a lot more difficult," Reed said at the rally, via ABC 7 NY.

The letter by the civil rights organizations identified Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion, as an "American hero, wife, daughter, sister, friend, teammate, anti-bullying advocate, Olympian, and WNBA superstar" while noting she "continues to endure inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family."

Griner was scheduled to speak with her wife, Cherelle Griner, on Saturday for their four-year wedding anniversary but the U.S. embassy in Moscow was not at the desk to connect them, per the Associated Press. It would have been the first time they spoke since her detainment.

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