- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert expressed her concern Monday about Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner, and said the league is doing all it can to “bring her home.”
Engelbert addressed the media before the league’s draft in New York, and mentioned Griner — who was the league’s No. 1 pick in 2013 — right away in her opening remarks. Griner was detained at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17 after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Russian media reported last month that Griner’s detention has been extended until at least May 19. The WNBA’s 26th season begins May 6.
“This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in,” Engelbert said. “She continues to have our full support. Certainly, we’re trying everything we can, every angle, working with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration. Just everybody in our ecosystem to try and find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can.”
Engelbert said the league would work with the Mercury in supporting Griner’s philanthropic project, called BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, this season. The drive has gathered new or gently used shoes for homeless people in the Phoenix area.
“That will take place in all 12 WNBA markets,” Engelbert said. “The activations we will do are intended to remind us of BG’s spirit of giving, and do the work that she’d be doing if she were here, and the work she will join us in when she returns.”
Griner, 31, was the WNBA’s top selection out of Baylor nine years ago and helped lead the Mercury to the league championship in 2014 and the WNBA Finals last season. She is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
“Obviously, we’re in a very complex geo-political situation with Russia, Ukraine,” Engelbert said. “We’re getting a ton of support from the government, from specialists. Her representation is able to visit with Brittney, we know she’s safe. But we want to get her home. We’re following the advice … there’s not a day that goes by that we’re not talking to someone who has views on what we’ve been doing and how we’re moving forward.
“I know we’re all frustrated, but we do need to be patient. The players have been amazing at following the advice they’re getting and we’re getting in order not to jeopardize her safety in any way.”
Engelbert said she told the players the same thing that she has always told her own daughter.
“I would go to the end of the Earth to help you if you’re ever in trouble,” Engelbert said. “And I say the same thing about Brittney Griner.”
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