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Brittney Griner vows return to WNBA, help for detained Americans

Aug 5, 2022; Louisville, Kentucky, USA; A sign supporting Brittney Griner (not pictured), who has recently been sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia, is displayed during the first half of the game between the Washington Spirit and Racing Louisville FC at Lynn Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Brittney Griner left the military medical facility where she spent the past week on Friday, heading to Arizona to try to restart her life, which she said will include a return to the Phoenix Mercury.

“It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn,” Griner wrote in an Instagram post. “I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”

Griner was released a week ago from detention in a penal colony in Russia, where she was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to nine years in prison. She was arrested in February at an airport near Moscow when vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage.

CNN reported that Griner took off from San Antonio on Friday morning, and the Mercury sent a contingent to welcome her on the Texas tarmac: team president Vince Kozar, general manager Jim Pitman and longtime teammate Diana Taurasi.

She will be seeing more of them, according to her Instagram post.

“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” Griner, 32, said.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Griner was returned to the United States after the Biden administration agreed to swap convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for her. The deal was criticized by many observers, who believed either that Bout shouldn’t have been released because of a threat he could pose, or that additional detainees should have returned home with Griner.

Among them was Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was arrested on espionage charges in Russia on Dec. 28, 2018. He was convicted in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years of hard labor.

Griner said she appreciates the efforts to bring her home and vowed to work for Whelan’s release.

“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” she said. “I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.”

–Field Level Media

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