Brittney Griner breaks silence following Russian prisoner swap, vows to return for upcoming WNBA season
Griner returned to the US last week in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout
WNBA star Brittney Griner spoke out for the first time since returning to the U.S. nearly 10 months after she was arrested and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison for drug smuggling, vowing that she will return to the court to play this upcoming season.
Griner posted a lengthy statement to her Instagram on Friday, when she thanked a number of people including the WNBA, the Biden administration and her family for advocating for her safe return home.
"It feels so good to be home! The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. 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," she wrote in the post.
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Griner returned to the U.S. last week after the Biden administration and Russia agreed to a prisoner swap in which Griner would be released from a Russian penal colony in exchange for Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death."
"President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too," Griner said Friday.
The basketball star was arrested at an airport in Moscow in early February after Russian authorities said she had vape cartridges with cannabis oil inside her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty, arguing that she had been prescribed cannabis for pain management and inadvertently packed it.
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The State Department said over the summer that it had offered a substantial proposal aimed at bringing both Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan home, but after months of no progress, the two sides finally agreed on a deal that secured only Griner’s return.
"I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you," Griner wrote. "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."
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The two-time Olympic gold medalist also took the opportunity to announce that she will return for the upcoming WNBA season.
"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," she wrote.