Brittney Griner’s guilty plea Thursday has not lessened the support the Olympic gold medalist continues to receive from her WNBA peers.
The Phoenix Mercury All-Star pleaded guilty to drug possession charges on the second day of her trial in a Russian court in a case that could see her sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. The chance of Griner being convicted were considered extremely high before her plea.
“The WNBPA stands with Brittney Griner. With a 99% conviction rate, Russia’s process is its own. You can’t navigate it or even understand it like our own legal system,” WNBAPA Executive Director Terri Jackson said in a statement. “What we do know is that the U.S. State Department determined that Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained for a reason and we’ll leave it at that.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Griner told the court that she had no intention of committing a crime and had acted unintentionally because she had packed for Moscow in a hurry. The trial was then adjourned until July 14.
Griner emphasized “that she had committed this act through negligence, unintentionally,” her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told reporters outside the court near Moscow following the guilty plea.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert issued a statement saying the league is continuing its effort to aide in Griner’s release.
“Brittney Griner remains wrongfully detained in Russia and nothing that happened today changes that 140 days later,” Englebert said. “The WNBA continues to work diligently with the U.S. State Department, the White House, and other allies in and outside government to get Brittney home safely and as soon as possible.
“She has the wholehearted and unconditional support of the entire WNBA and NBA family, who eagerly await her safe return, and the league will recognize BG as an honorary starter at this weekend’s WNBA All-Star Game.”
Griner, 31, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport while returning to play basketball in Russia, and police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
The plea came a day after President Joe Biden had a phone conversation with Griner’s wife Cherelle during which he told her that he is working to free the two-time Olympic gold medalists as soon as possible.
Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas thanked the president in a tweet Thursday after her client entered the guilty plea.
“Brittney Griner was a model of courage today,” Kagawa Colas tweeted. “She deserves our compassion, understanding, love, and support. ... We are so grateful to @POTUS and @VP for the time they spent with Cherelle confirming their commitment to bring BG and all Americans home.”
Griner’s plea came hours before her team played the New York Liberty on Thursday night. The Mercury have struggled on and off the court with their friend and teammate stuck in a prison halfway around the world.
“We’re basketball players and coaches, but when your friend is in danger, when your friend is saying in a letter that they’re scared, those things are hard to get away from,” Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “We don’t get to walk into our jobs and leave our lives behind. We all know that. We’re all having that experience. With this situation with BG, it is hard for everyone on the team.”
The Mercury said little when Griner was first arrested as the request of the US government, but have become more vocal — with fellow WNBA players — as her incarceration has continued.
“It’s a real challenge. No team has ever faced this. It’s a constant undercurrent,” Nygaard said. “Things that might not be a big deal to other teams, we have this constant thing with a person we care about.”
The plea also came after Griner’s WNBA team held a public rally in support of the 6-foot-9 center with several hundred fans in attendance. The rally at the Footprint Center, home of the Phoenix Mercury and Suns, was part celebration of Griner’s accomplishments on and off the court with a call to action.
“One hundred thirty-nine days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to me, to our family and our friends,” Cherelle Griner said during the rally, stopping to compose herself several times. “I’m frustrated my wife is not going to get justice. I know you all are frustrated, too. That’s why you’re here.”
AP Basketball Writer John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this report.