Officials from the State Department met with the Phoenix Mercury on Monday about Brittney Griner, who is still detained in Russia, and efforts that the United States government has made to secure her release, according to The Associated Press.
It’s unclear what specifically happened in the meeting or who attended, but the State Department confirmed the meeting to The Associated Press and said it involved officials from its office that deals with hostages and wrongfully detained Americans.
“We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives,” Mercury star Diana Taurasi said, via AZCentral’s Jeff Metcalfe.
“We want BG to come home as soon as possible. It’s No. 1 on our list. Once we knew that BG was classified as wrongfully detained, that was a signal to us all. It’s something that we’ve talked about intimately as a group. Now knowing that the State Department at the highest level, from U.S. President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it. Anything that we can do on our side to amplify and to put BG first will be our No. 1 priority.”
Griner has been detained in Russia for more than 115 days after officials claim they found vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport. The State Department has classified her as a wrongfully detained citizen. Russia is reportedly open to a deal that would release Griner, but wants to exchange her for notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death.”
Griner has been able to answer certain emails from WNBA players and others through a special account set up by her agent, but she’s been otherwise isolated.
Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard was skeptical of the meeting with the State Department on Sunday, but sounded content with how it went after the meeting ended.
“It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home … She’s our teammate, she’s an American and we want her back home,” Nygaard said, via AZCentral’s Jeff Metcalfe.
Nygaard also invited both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to attend their game against the Washington Mystics on Tuesday and speak with the team.
“You’re welcome to come into our locker room and talk to us,” Nygaard told CNN on Sunday. “You’re also welcome to just enjoy the game, you can see what our team looks like without Brittney Griner, but also we would just love to see you as a supporter of our team.
“And um, yeah, we have snacks in our locker room, we got all sorts of stuff that we would love to – honestly, you can sit on the bench, you can sit on the bench right next to me.”