WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner Is Being Held by Russian Authorities

Feature image by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

WNBA All-Star, gold medal Olympian, and very out lesbian Brittney Griner has been arrested by Russian authorities after they found “vape cartridges that contained hashish oil” in her luggage when she arrived at an airport near Moscow. There’s no timeline on the arrest.

According to the Russian Interfax news agency, she was detained in February, and the last time Griner posted to Instagram was February 5th. Griner’s name hasn’t even even been officially released by Russian law enforcement. According to The New York Times, the Russian Federal Customs Service released a statement saying they’d arrested a two-time gold medal-winning Olympic athlete. A law enforcement source identified the player as Brittney Griner to a Russian news agency.

Also from the NYT:

The Customs Service released a video of a traveler at the airport that appeared to be the 31-year-old Griner, wearing a mask and black sweatshirt, going through security. The video showed an individual removing a package from the traveler’s bag. The basketball player was taken into custody while the investigation is ongoing, the officials said.

During the WNBA off-season, Griner, like many other WNBA players, is part of an overseas league to supplement her WNBA income. She plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg as part of the Russian Premiere League. On February 24th, the WNBA reported that they’d been in touch with all players (or their agents) in Russia and would closely monitor Russia’s war on Ukraine and advise their players accordingly. The few WNBA athletes who were playing in Ukraine have already returned home,

“An increasing number of airlines are cancelling flights into and out of Russia,” The United States Embassy in Moscow warned in a statement on February 27th. “Numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines. U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.”

As of now, it seems that no news outlet has been able to get a statement from the WNBA, the Phoenix Mercury, or Griner’s agents about what’s happening with her in Russia. We do know that a criminal investigation has been opened and she faces up to ten years in Russian prison if convicted.

I’ll update this post with more about this terrifying and infuriating situation as more information (hopefully) becomes available. In the meantime, I’m praying for her safe return home.

From Autostraddle Editor in Chief, Carmen Phillips:

Update: The Phoenix Mercury and WNBA have released statements about Griner:

Mercury: “We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the W.N.B.A. and N.B.A. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”

WNBA: “Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”

Update: USA basketball has a released statement about Griner:

“USA Basketball is aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia. Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns.”

Update: Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, has a released statement about Griner and requesting privacy as those involved work to bring her home:

“Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life. I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.”

Update: Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, whose work on racism in the Ukraine/Russian war Carmen has been featuring in the Also.Also.Also, made the news rounds yesterday to share her expertise on what’s happening with Griner. She definitely deserves a follow and will likely be providing vital commentary in the coming days. (Hopefully just days.)

Update: During a press conference Saturday, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Texas’ 18th Congressional District in the U.S. House, demanded Griner’s release. Griner is originally from Houston and played college ball at Baylor, in Waco, TX.

Update: Russian state TV has released a photo of Brittney Griner. CNN has the story.

Update: Brittney Griner appeared in Russian court today; her detainment has been extended to at least May.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. This is so scary for so many reasons. I’m hoping that our government can get her out, especially now that publications like the NYT is reporting on it, but our already icy relationship with Russia certainly hasn’t gotten better in the past few weeks.

  2. Thank you for reporting this!! This is terrible but important queer news, and reading this made me tear up in Dunkin Donuts this morning. Praying for her safe return. Carmen Phillips’ take is sadly very on point.

    The fact they’ve had her 4 wks and been internally bragging they have an American Gold Medalist (after they were humiliated at the winter olympics with MORE doping)…I’m so worried for her.

  3. the publicity has me worried – it goes 2 ways. harder for Russia to do things covertly, but provides leverage if they think there’s pressure increasing on US to get her back.

    i’m really hoping there’s an oligarch who’s an ekaterinburg fan that will step in and say he doesn’t want his favorite team/player messed with. or could at least convince russians that it’s better to use her release as a marketing tool to show “their commitment to fairness & equality” that they treat a masc black lesbian equably when even her own country doesn’t. normally i’d be opposed to brooking gaslighting like that about the intent, but in this instance with her ticking all the boxes on russia’s bigotry checklist, really, whatever works.

    sending her, her family, and everyone love and peace. praying for her safe return.

    • Yeah, this is what I was thinking. I have more hope for someone who owns the club being able to negotiate on her behalf more successfully than the US govt right now.

      Terrifying situation.

  4. It’s all too convenient. Think about it. She’s been playing there for years. She knows the “rules” in that country. They detain her right before they invade? They keep it a “secret” until they’re ready to announce? No they’re using her as a pawn. This is sick and twisted but that’s Putin and the neo-conservative base here in America that supports this garbage. It’s a way to further divide the country. I truly fear for her safety. This is not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. I don’t pray. I don’t do that but I will ask for her protection during this time.

  5. echoing other commenters’ concern about how this took place, here is some context:

    (Adrienne Lawrence, Esq.

    Concerned folks (hopefully everybody) could contact senators/congress reps to say this matters to us and to please urge whatever useful strategies consulting with russia experts says will be helpful to return her safely.

    i still worry that publicity will increase her value as leverage; hoping powerful who don’t want to be affected further by sanctions/boycotts can be convinced/employed to effect her release.

  6. I often wonder if they specifically targeted her or if she simply “fell into their laps” by inadvertently breaking a morality law.

    It seems like they’ve wanted prisoners to swap with America for a while, so they may have chosen her and then found the pretext for her arrest in the vape cartridge, so to speak.


    A week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Brittney Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, where cannabis oil vape cartridges were found in her luggage. Moscow’s harsh drug laws are under the spotlight following the American basketball star’s arrest.

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