Russia's release of Trevor Reed highlights plight of Brittney Griner

US women's basketball player has been detained by Moscow since February

Phoenix Mercury centre Brittney Griner at basketball's WNBA Finals in October 2021.  AP Photo
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The release of Trevor Reed, a former US Marine who had been detained in Russia for three years, is strengthening calls on social media for the release of women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who has been detained by Moscow since February.

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on Wednesday that Mr Reed was heading back to the US, though he is likely to go to hospital after his ordeal.

The US negotiated a trade for Mr Reed and a Russian national who had been convicted in the US on drug trafficking conspiracy charges.

In a tweet, Mr Biden said: “Trevor’s safe return is a testament to the priority we place on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad.” In other remarks, he said the US “won’t stop” until other detained Americans are returned home.

That includes Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained in 2018 on espionage charges that he has denied. In response to both Mr Biden and Mr Blinken’s tweets, and in related trending posts, people asked for updates on Griner, who will be held until at least her next hearing on May 19, according to Russian state-run media outlet Tass.

Sports journalists Taylor Rooks and Cari Champion joined those in calling for her release “next and now.”

The news of her arrest was first made known on March 5, when the Russian Federal Customs Service said it had detained an American basketball player at Sheremetyevo airport. The agency claims it found vape cartridges with hash oil in the player’s luggage.

Later reports identified Griner, who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, as the player in question. That day, Griner’s wife Cherelle asked for privacy and called the situation “one of the weakest moments of my life.”

Since then, there has been little public update on Griner’s whereabouts, though The New York Times quoted a source as saying she was “OK.”

US representative Colin Allred on March 10 told CNN that he was working to “make sure that her rights are respected and that we are able to get access to her, and that she can get through the process and get home as quickly as possible.”

Phoenix Mercury centre Brittney Griner, in 2019.  AP Photo

Representative Cori Bush, Billie Jean King, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all tweeted in support of Griner.

“We cannot ignore the fact that if Brittney Griner wasn’t a black woman, it would be plastered across the news that she is being held as a political prisoner in Russia,” Ms Bush wrote.

Griner wasn’t the only WNBA player in Russia in February.

Other players who were slated to play for international teams during the WNBA’s offseason had left Russia or Ukraine shortly after President Vladimir Putin ordered a military invasion of Ukraine.

Kagawa Colas on Wednesday pointed to pay inequity between the WNBA and the NBA as a key reason why these athletes choose to play overseas, and she urged companies to invest in women’s leagues to help close the gap.

The WNBA’s 2022 season is scheduled to kick off on Friday, May 6. Representatives for the WNBA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Updated: April 28, 2022, 8:40 AM