Mystics’ Elizabeth Williams, Kennedy Burke make pleas to help bring Brittney Griner home

For the second straight game, members of the Washington Mystics blacked out a portion of their postgame availability to talk about an issue off the basketball court. Following Saturday’s loss to the Connecticut Sun, Elizabeth Williams and Kennedy Burke held a media blackout to discuss the detainment of Brittney Griner in Russia. 

Williams started it off with a statement that was published earlier in the morning by the WNBA’s Players’ Association

“Brittney Griner is our teammate, our friend, and our sister. She’s a record-breaker, a gold medalist, a wife, a daughter, a champion, a role model an all-star and so much more. Right now BG is an American citizen who has been wrongfully detained in Russia for 100 days. That’s 144,000 minutes. Anyone who’s followed us knows the power of the 144. We know that speaking up together as a collective is game-, life-and world-changing,” Williams said.

The Phoenix Mercury center has been detained in Russia since February after customs officials said they found hashish oil in her luggage at an airport. It remains unclear when she may be allowed to return to the U.S.

Griner was the MVP runner-up in 2021, helping the Mercury reach the WNBA Finals before falling to the Chicago Sky. She finished the season averaging 20.5 points (second in the WNBA), 9.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks (first in the WNBA) per game. She also scored 30 points for Team USA in the gold medal game against Japan at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.

 

Throughout her career, she has been named Defensive Player of the Year twice and recognized as one of the WNBA’s top 25 greatest players ever.

Williams uses the 144 reference as there are 144 players in the WNBA, the smallest association of professional athletes in the U.S. Repeatedly, the usage of 144 has symbolized how strong the players can be when united, while also recognizing that each of them holds a powerful voice in a position that is not easy to reach.

Throughout the day, several other players continued to speak out on Griner. Not only did this include WNBA players, but NBA players and the MLB Players’ Association as well.

Burke continued the press conference with another section of the WNBPA’s statement. 

“To our sisters, brothers and colleagues across all sports, sign the petition, hold your own media blackouts, please help us reach the White House. To athletes of any age, ability level team, sport or country this is our teammate, a member of our global sports community. We need to stand up and stand together to call for her release. Speak up, speak out, and do not stop until BG is home,” Burke said. 

Griner was in Russia playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, an overseas team she has been a part of since 2014. When Russia invaded Ukraine, she and fellow WNBA teammates Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Jonquel Jones left the country. Griner was stopped at the airport as she was about to board a plane. 

Unlike most professional athletes in the United States, most WNBA players are rostered on other teams across the world to make additional money in the offseason. UMMC Ekaterinburg is one of the premier teams that several stars have played on through the years.

It is an action Williams and Burke are familiar with as both had to miss training camp and a portion of the season to fulfill those overseas contracts. And part of her detainment is due to issues that led her to play overseas.

“We recognize that the wrongful detainment of one of our own is a pay equity issue,” Williams said. “We cannot hide it or spin it. We have to own it because the sooner we do that the closer we get to addressing the issue.” 

Earlier in the week, the Mystics held their first media blackout of the year following the shooting of an Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Natasha Cloud spoke on behalf of her teammates in an impassioned statement to the media. 

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