- Brittney Griner returned to the US after 10 months in Russian detainment in early December.
- The WNBA superstar penned a letter thanking fans for helping her “not lose hope” while in prison.
- “Your letters were also bigger than uplifting me. They showed me the power of collective hands,” Griner wrote.
Brittney Griner is back on US soil after 10 months detained in Russia.
Less than two weeks after her long-awaited and highly publicized return, the WNBA superstar penned a letter to fans thanking them for their support during the most challenging year of her life.
In the note posted to her Instagram account Wednesday, Griner wrote, “thanks to the efforts of many, including you, I am home.”
“You took the time to show me you cared and I want to personally take the time to write you and say that your effort mattered,” she said. “Your letters helped me to not lose hope during a time where I was full of regret and vulnerable in ways I could have never imagined.”
“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart,” Griner added. “Because of you I never lost hope.”
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was first taken into Russian custody on February 17. The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury center was charged with the large-scale transportation of drugs and moved to a Russian jail shortly after customs agents at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
Six months later, Griner was found guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent and sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. But less than a month after she arrived at a notorious penal colony, the eight-time WNBA All-Star was freed after President Joe Biden and his administration agreed to a prisoner swap that exchanged Griner for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
She and the “Merchant of Death” crossed paths on a tarmac in the United Arab Emirates, where US government officials ushered Griner onto a private plane headed for a military base in San Antonio, Texas. One long flight later, the 32-year-old was reunited with her wife, Cherelle, and other loved ones waiting for her in her native Lone Star state.
Griner credits her supporters for bringing her home.
“Your letters were also bigger than uplifting me,” she wrote in her letter. “They showed me the power of collective hands. Together, we can do hard things. I’m living proof of that.”
“My family is whole and now, thanks to you, we are fortunate to get to spend the holidays together,” Griner added. “However, there remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained.”
Then, the Baylor Bears legend turned her attention to Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia who was not included in the prisoner exchange for Bout despite earlier suggestions that he would be. During his press conference the day Griner’s freedom was announced, Biden suggested that the Kremlin refused to negotiate for Whelan because “Russia is treating Paul [Whelan]’s case differently than Brittney’s.”
A former US Marine-turned-security executive, Whelan was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 over suspicions that he was an American spy. He was subsequently convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison, with the possibility of serving time at a labor camp.
Like Griner, Whelan was deemed “wrongfully detained” by the US government. Even still, securing the 52-year-old’s freedom has posed far tougher than freeing other wrongfully detained Americans.
Dr. Dani Gilbert, an expert on hostage-taking and recovery who is currently a Rosenwald Fellow in US Foreign Policy and International Security at Dartmouth College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, told Insider that Moscow’s fierce propaganda campaign against Whelan has significantly complicated negotiations for his release.
“It’s really common for a government like Russia or Iran to accuse an American of being a spy, and that’s a really convenient charge for them because the American public will basically never know,” Gilbert said. “It makes it really complicated to think about what someone was doing in a foreign country and what kinds of deals the United States might be willing to make or not make to get that person home.”
Whelan’s murky situation and shaky standing in the court of public opinion have almost certainly driven up the cost of bringing him home. Even still, Griner is lobbying those who helped bring her home to extend the same support to Whelan.
“Those families [of other wrongfully detained Americans] stood alongside you and all who supported the WeAreBG campaign to bring me home and it’s our turn to support them,” she wrote. “I hope you’ll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.”
Then, she offered the address to send letters to Whelan, offered her thanks once more, and signed her name with her #42.
Check out the full note below: