Brittney Griner thanks Biden and vows to return to basketball after being freed from Russian jail

Brittney Griner wears a white jersey as she holds up a white and orange basketball as she shoots it towards a hoop. Her hair is styled in locks and she has tattoos on her arms

Brittney Griner has said she plans to return to basketball to “thank” those who helped secure her release in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. 

On 9 December, a day after president Joe Biden confirmed Griner was “safe” and “on her way home”, the 32-year-old took to Instagram to announce her plans to return to playing for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). 

“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon.”

She continued: “It feels so good to be home. The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn.

“I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”

The WNBA player thanked all those who have helped secure her freedom and said she hoped for the release of Paul Whelan. 

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Whelan is a former US Marine who was arrested in 2018 on accusations of spying. He received a 16-year prison sentence in 2020.

President Joe Biden speaks at a podium at the White House to share the news that Brittney Griner was released from a Russian penal colony
President Joe Biden said the US administration will “never give up” trying to secure Paul Whelan’s release from Russia after brokering a prisoner exchange for Brittney Griner. (Getty)

“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. 

“I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. 

“I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole,” she said. 

Griner was sentenced in August to nine years in a Russian penal colony after pleading guilty to drug charges. She was reportedly found at an airport with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. 

At her sentencing, Griner told the court she had made “an honest mistake” and she “never meant to break any laws”. 

There had long been a public push for authorities to get Griner released, something Biden said they had been working on since “day one”.

Griner was moved from a detention centre to the IK-2 penal colony in Yavas, Mordovia – some 480 kilometres southeast of Moscow – in early November.

Experts commented on the tough conditions she was expected to face – partly because she is Black, American and queer.

Griner’s release has been widely celebrated across the US and beyond.

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