US basketball star Brittney Griner has been convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison over drug possession and smuggling charges in Russia, which President Joe Biden called “unacceptable” on Thursday.
The two-time US Olympic gold medalist and eight-time WNBA all-star was detained in February after Russian police found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Griner, 31, who had competed in Russia since 2014, pleaded guilty at her trial in July, when she also explained that she had “no intention of breaking any Russian law,” and did not intend “to smuggle anything into Russia.” Her lawyers also introduced evidence that she was using the medicinal cannabis for chronic pain.
President Joe Biden released a statement shortly after Griner’s sentence was handed down.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden said. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan [another American detained in Russia] home safely as soon as possible.”
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Many notables in the sports world also reacted with dismay to the nine-year prison sentence for Griner in a series of social media posts. Several tweeted “Free BG!” This led “Brittney Griner” and “Russia” to top US Twitter trends on Thursday. The news of Griner’s sentencing also dominated real-time Google search trends throughout the day.
Among the athletes speaking out was University of Connecticut basketball star Paige Bueckers, who wrote, “FREE BG” in all caps. In 2021, Bueckers won the women’s college basketball player of the year award, something Griner has also won twice.
Las Vegas Aces star A’Ja Wilson also tweeted for freeing Griner on Thursday morning.
And several NBA players, including Jaden Ivey, Monte Morris and Grant Williams, showed support for Griner, as well.
The NBA and WNBA released a statement on Thursday afternoon calling the situation with Griner “unjustified and unfortunate.”
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In July, CNN reported that the US had at one point offered a prisoner swap with Russia. In that case, Griner and fellow Russian prisoner Whelan would be swapped in exchange for Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer who is currently serving a 25- year prison sentence in the United States.
Griner’s sentencing comes as tensions have soared between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine.