Breanna Stewart, Angel McCoughtry Discuss Brittney Griner's Detainment in Russia

Author: Joseph Zucker

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File 

WNBA stars Breanna Stewart and Angel McCoughtry spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time about Brittney Griner’s ongoing detainment in Russia.


“The big thing is the fact that we have to go over there [to Russia],” Stewart said to the Associated Press’ Doug Feinberg. “It was BG, but it could have been anybody. WNBA players need to be valued in their country and they won’t have to play overseas.”


McCoughtry echoed a similar point: “People are saying she’s 6-foot-9, she’s different. It’s really not about that. It could have been any of us.”Griner’s situation has renewed the conversation about how WNBA players need to play overseas in the offseason to earn sufficient income from their playing career.


The new collective bargaining agreement raised salaries across the board, with a supermax contract hitting $256,721 in base salary annually by 2026. Still, that doesn’t provide enough of an incentive for players to remain in the United States in the offseason when they can collect $1 million or more in Europe.


Upon the conclusion of the 2021 WNBA season, Griner lamented how making the trek to Russia—she has played for UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014—was “getting harder and harder.”


“I’m not looking forward to it, honestly, having to leave my family,” she said.


Michael Crowley and Jonathan Abrams of the New York Times reported on March 5 that Russian authorities had taken Griner into custody over allegations she had vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage.


While that was the first time fans were alerted to her status, Rep. Colin Allred clarified to ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel that Griner was originally arrested on Feb. 17.


Some of Griner’s WNBA colleagues and others have been cautious about bringing too much attention to her plight should it jeopardize the likelihood of an expeditious return home.


With the United States imposing strict sanctions on Russia after its military invasion of Ukraine, which began Feb. 24, Voepel and ESPN.com colleague T.J. Quinn wrote the seven-time All-Star could be “at the mercy of Russian President Vladimir Putin” if her arrest becomes politicized.


They also spoke with Tom Firestone, a lawyer and former legal adviser for the U.S. embassy in Moscow who laid out all of the factors involved:


“Sometimes cases like this are better off handled in a low-key approach through the criminal justice system. I think the concern is, if it becomes too high-profile, if it becomes political, then the Russian government may dig into their position. It may make it difficult for her to get a good resolution of the case, and she could become a pawn in a bigger political battle.”


TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency, reported on March 18 that Griner’s period of detention has been extended to at least May 19. Firestone told Quinn that Russia is able to hold Griner for as many as 12 to 18 months before she actually goes to trial. 

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