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At the first press conference she's given since being released from detainment in Russia, WNBA star Brittney Griner announced yesterday that she has no plans to play overseas ever again, unless it is on the U.S.A national team.
"I'm never going overseas to play again unless it's to represent my country," she said during the conference, per ESPN. "The whole reason a lot of us go over is the pay gap ... to support our families, to support ourselves. So I don't knock any player that wants to go overseas."
Brittney was detained in Russia from February to December 2022, after authorities claimed to have found cannabis concentrate in her vape cartridges at an airport near Moscow. Brittney used to play with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the off-season, per ESPN.
In August 2022, Brittney was found guilty by a Russian court of an attempt to smuggle illegal drugs into Russia, per The New York Times. (She previously pleaded guilty to the charges, saying that “there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”)
She was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony, according to her lawyers.
However, Brittney was released from Russian custody in December 2022, President Joe Biden announced, per CNN. The WNBA star was liberated in a prisoner swap that involved Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to CNN.
Since her arrest and freedom, Brittney's wife Cherelle Griner has been a vocal advocate for Brittney and by her side at nearly every public appearance. In fact, during the recent press conference, Brittney asked for a round of applause for Cherelle.
"I couldn't have did it without her," Brittney said during the conference. "She had the hardest job, honestly."
So, who is Brittney’s wife and how did she help Brittney? Here’s what you need to know.
Who is Brittney Griner?
Let's start off with the basics. Brittney Griner is a WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury and an Olympic gold medalist. The 32-year-old native Houstonian was a member of Team USA’s 2016 gold medal team during 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and a member of the 2014 WNBA Championship team, Phoenix Mercury, according to her WNBA bio.
She’s also won several "Player of the Year" awards and is a six-time WNBA All-Star.
How long was Brittney in Russian custody?
She was in custody for 10 months. Brittney was held in Russian prison from February to December 2022, when she was arrested for allegedly carrying hashish oil in her luggage through a Russian airport, per The Athletic.
In May, the U.S. State Department reclassified Brittney as being "wrongfully detained" and transferred her case to the office of the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, according to The New York Times. The change allows the U.S. government to negotiate for her release, instead of waiting for her trial to conclude.
"I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you," she wrote in the letter to Biden. "I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home."
What does Cherelle Griner do for a living?
Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, is a former teacher, and recently graduated from the North Carolina Central University of Law, according to her LinkedIn profile, which has been taken down. She officially passed the bar exam in April.
Brittney posted on Instagram about how proud she was of Cherelle for passing the bar. "There aren't enough words for me to express how abundantly proud I am of you baby," Brittney wrote. "Congratulations Attorney Cherelle Griner."
What did Cherelle do during Brittney’s detainment?
During Brittney's detainment, Cherelle repeatedly posted on Instagram, urging the Biden administration to take action to bring her wife home. She also appeared on Good Morning America in May 2022 to further urge the United States government to take action on getting Brittney home. During the appearance, she also confirmed she spoke to United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the situation.
"You say she's top priority, but I wanna see it, and I feel like to see it would be me seeing BG on U.S. soil," Cherelle reportedly told Blinken, per US Weekly.
On December 11, 2022, she posted for the first time since Brittney's homecoming. The post featured a collage of photos of those who helped advocate and bring her wife home, and Cherelle thanked lots of people, including the Biden-Harris administration, for their help.
"Yesterday my heart was made whole thanks to the collective efforts of MANY! I’m humbled by their hearts. To care for another, a stranger to some, a friend to some—is humanity in its purest form!" she wrote in the caption.
"As BG and I start our journey to heal our minds, bodies, and spirits—I wanted to personally say thank you to some of the hands; seen and unseen, that helped make it possible for me to see my wife again!"
“I couldn’t imagine enduring this fight to get my wife home safely and quickly in my own strength!” she wrote in June 2022. "I’m humbled that I do not have to! Every voice 𝐈𝐒 vital in the fight to get BG home.”
Cherelle’s other posts about her wife celebrated four years together:
Before Brittney was freed, Cherelle also posted several IG Stories, including various prayer vigils in honor of her wife, and other accounts' posts supporting Brittney.
Cherelle also spoke to the Associated Press, telling the outlet that the couple previously hadn't been able to speak to each other for four months at a time, despite Griner's apparent attempts to get in touch via the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle told the Associated Press.
Cherelle spoke about Brittney's release at the White House: "Today, my family is whole."
Standing next to President Biden during his announcement of the prisoner swap, Cherelle spoke out about the “darkest moments” of her life since Brittney's arrest in February, per The New York Times.
Over the months, she had steadily put public pressure on the White House not to forget about her wife. "Today my family is whole," she said.
“The most important emotion I have right now is sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration. He just mentioned that this work is not easy, and it hasn’t been,” she said, adding that she also remembered the family of Paul Whelan, another American who remains imprisoned in Russia.
How did the U.S. government help with Brittney's case?
President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Cherelle after Brittney’s personal appeal to the president via a handwritten letter, which arrived at the White House on July 4, 2022 per the Midland Daily News. In the letter, she asked Biden to not “forget about me and the other American Detainees.”
CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins tweeted that President Biden and Vice President Harris spoke with Cherelle on July 6, in which Biden read a draft of the letter he is planning to send to Brittney.
“The White House says Biden assured her he's working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” Collins wrote.
President Biden & VP Harris spoke with Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle Griner today. The White House says Biden assured her he's working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as Paul Whelan. Biden read her a draft of a letter he's sending to Griner.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) July 6, 2022
President Joe Biden released a statement soon after Brittney’s verdict was handed down, saying that it was “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney."
Now, the U.S. government has agreed to an exchange Brittney for Viktor Bout, a man known as the “Merchant of Death” who sold weapons to terrorists, rebels, and militants around the world before being arrested for conspiring to kill Americans, the New York Times notes.
In December 2022, American officials also publicly thanked the United Arab Emirates for providing a location for the prisoner swap of Brittney Griner and Victor Bout, per the NYT. Britney arrived in Abu Dhabi on Thursday by private plane from Moscow, according to a statement by the Emirati and Saudi foreign affairs ministries.
How did Brittney and Cherelle meet?
Brittney and Cherelle met as undergraduates at Baylor University in Texas, according to Us Weekly. However, they didn’t start dating until after Brittney split from her first wife, Glory Johnson in 2016.
Brittney paid tribute to her wife on Instagram in June 2020, noting that she will “never forget” the day she met Cherelle at Baylor.
“You tapped me on my shoulder and told me I took your milkshake (still up for debate lol) and I was immediately blown away at your beauty!” she wrote. “You had no idea but I knew you were the one for me baby. You stuck by my side at the lowest and at the highest!”
How long have they been married?
Brittney and Cherelle got married in 2019, according to Us Weekly. So, they’ve been married for about four years.
Before that, Brittney was married to fellow WNBA player Glory Johnson back in 2015. Their wedding was featured in The New York Times "Vows" column, but the romance did not last. Griner filed for an annulment only 28 days after they got married, per USA Today. Johnson had announced she was pregnant via sperm donation the day before.
The annulment was not granted, and the couple remained married until their divorce was finalized in 2016, TMZ reported.
Does Brittney Griner have a child?
Brittney's ex-wife, Glory Johnson has two children—twins Ava and Solei, according to People. However, it isn't clear if Griner plays an active role in their lives, as the couple's marriage ended shortly after Glory became pregnant.
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