WNBA denounces nine-year prison term for Brittney Griner

“Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate but not unexpected, and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained,” the WNBA and NBA said in a joint statement.

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Brittney Griner will remain behind bars in Russia for now after being sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday.

Brittney Griner will remain behind bars in Russia for now after being sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday.

Evgenia Novozhenina/AFP via Getty Images

Hours before a Russian court found basketball star Brittney Griner guilty of bringing marijuana with criminal intent into the country, her UMMC Ekaterinburg teammates made pleas on social media.

Courtney Vandersloot, Storm forward Breanna Stewart, Lynx guard Kayla McBride and Sun forward Jonquel Jones were among the teammates and peers who shared messages with the hope that the Russian judge would show Griner mercy.

“I ask out of respect for the sanctity of sport that Russia will have mercy and show compassion to [Brittney Griner] as her trial ends,” Vandersloot included in her message on Instagram.

Ultimately, judge Anna Sotnikova showed no consideration, sentencing Griner to nine years in a Russian penal colony.

During closing arguments, the prosecution asked for 9½ years, just under the maximum sentence of 10 years. The U.S. embassy’s charge d’affaires, Elizabeth Rood, stood outside the court after the verdict and called the outcome “a miscarriage of justice.”

Although Griner’s lengthy sentence was expected, no preparation for the verdict could relieve the gravity of the news.

“The messaging stays the same,” Sky coach/general manager James Wade said. “We will continue to put pressure on the judicial system and the government and support their efforts in trying to get her home.”

Wade, who coached Griner on UMMC Ekaterinburg from 2017 to 2020 and won several titles, including two EuroLeague championships, shared familial experiences when asked what his fondest memories are of the two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA champion.

He wants the public to know what a caring person Griner is.

“She means a lot to people around the world, not just the basketball community,” Wade said. “She’s been a positive light to a lot of people that she’s touched.”

The calls for Griner’s immediate release came simultaneously with the judge’s guilty verdict.

Social media exploded with support from Griner’s WNBA peers and across the professional sports landscape. The WNBA and NBA issued a joint statement from commissioners Cathy Engelbert and Adam Silver.

“Today’s verdict and sentencing [are] unjustified and unfortunate but not unexpected, and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained,” their statement read. “The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered, and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”

Griner’s sentencing comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. Griner was arrested Feb. 17, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine.

It was reported last week that the United States made a proposal to secure Griner’s release. The deal supposedly would involve a swap of Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Experts believe that the sentencing will allow negotiations to accelerate.

“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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “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 home safely as soon as possible.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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