Brittney Griner's Wife Cherelle Says WNBA Star Feels Like 'Hostage' in Russia

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVOctober 5, 2022

US' Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) basketball player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, waits for the verdict inside a defendants' cage during a hearing in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022. - A Russian court found Griner guilty of smuggling and storing narcotics after prosecutors requested a sentence of nine and a half years in jail for the athlete. (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / POOL / AFP) (Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Brittney Griner (EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Cherelle Griner said she's "terrified" for her wife, WNBA star Brittney Griner, amid her continued imprisonment in Russia.

Griner told CBS Mornings' Gayle King it feels like her wife is a "hostage" and described the surreal nature of discussions to secure her release.

"It's like a movie for me," she said. "In no world did I ever thought our president and a foreign nation president would be sitting down having to discuss the freedom of my wife."

CBS Mornings @CBSMornings

Cherelle Griner says she is “terrified” about the fate of her wife, Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison: “It feels to me as if she’s a hostage.”<br><br>Watch her exclusive interview with <a href="https://twitter.com/GayleKing?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GayleKing</a> Thursday on <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CBSMornings?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CBSMornings</a>. <a href="https://t.co/3tioXecuvm">pic.twitter.com/3tioXecuvm</a>

Griner has been detained by Russia for 230 days since being arrested at a Moscow airport in February after vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage.

In August, the 31-year-old Texas native was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to drug charges. She argued during the trial it was an "honest mistake."

"That's why I pled guilty to my charges. I understand everything that's being said against me, the charges that are against me, and that is why I pled guilty," Griner said in court. "But I had no intent to break any Russian laws."

The U.S. State Department changed Griner's status to "wrongfully detained" in May, and the government has engaged in discussions with Russia about a potential prisoner swap.

After the U.S. offered Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner and fellow detainee Paul Whelan, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN's Jim Sciutto in July that Russia responded with a "bad-faith attempt" at a counteroffer.

Cherelle and Elizabeth Whelan, Paul's sister, met with President Joe Biden in mid-September to receive an update on the administration's efforts to secure their releases.

"The President held the meetings to reiterate his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely. He asked after the wellbeing of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Griner was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, as she'd done since 2014, when she was detained.

Numerous WNBA players compete overseas during the winter for supplemental income, but those who typically play in the Russian Premier League are going elsewhere this year.

Nearly a dozen players went to Russia last offseason and all of them, including star forward Breanna Stewart, told Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press last month they won't return.

"Honestly my time in Russia has been wonderful, but especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, nobody's going to go there until she's home," Stewart said. "I think that, you know, now, people want to go overseas and if the money is not much different, they want to be in a better place."

Breanna Stewart @breannastewart

It has been 229 days since our friend, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. <a href="https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WhiteHouse</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/POTUS?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@potus</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/VP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@vp</a> , we are paying attention and we are counting on you. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreBG?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeAreBG</a>

Griner is one of the most decorated players of her generation with seven championships overseas—four EuroLeague and three Russian League—along with a WNBA championship in with the Phoenix Mercury in 2014 and a national title at Baylor in 2012.

She's also a two-time Olympic gold medalist as part of Team USA in 2016 and 2021.