Brittney Griner Fans Have a New Strategy to Free Her: Make Some Noise

His face is on hoodies. His name is in the hashtags. His “BG” and number appear on fan jerseys and on WNBA courts.

As Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner waits in Russia, detained since February 17 on drug charges, symbols of her support are everywhere. They come from people who don’t know her at all and people who know and love her — teammates, supporters and former coaches.

Dawn Staley, who coached Griner and her American teammates to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, said she thinks about her every day.

“I know Brittney, I’ve been around her, I know her heart. I know what she’s talking about,” Staley said. a foreign country locked up abroad.”

Staley has been tweeting about Griner every day since early May. “Can you please release our friend,” she wrote on tuesday, tagging the official White House account. She added: “All of her loved ones would sleep a little easier.”

It has been more than three months since Griner was detained, accused of having hash oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. But only in the last few weeks has there been a coordinated public campaign by WNBA players and Griner’s wife, family, friends and agent Lindsay Colas to make pressure for his release. This is where the hoodies – worn by many different players — and initials — displayed on WNBA courts — come into play. The hashtag #WeAreBG seen on warm-up shirts and social media is also part of the campaign.

The delay in starting the campaign was strategic: Griner’s camp feared the publicity would escalate the situation due to tensions between Russia and the United States, including the war in Ukraine. But the delay has also been a source of frustration for female basketball players known for advocating for social justice. Their approach has changed since the State Department said on May 3 that it had determined Griner had been “wrongfully detained.”

“We’re more public,” said Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBA players’ union. One reason, she said, was the determination of the State Department, and another was advice from Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner.

“She’s in charge of that,” Jackson said. “She signaled through her team that she needed us, and that’s all we needed to hear.”

Cherelle Griner appeared on “hello americaon Wednesday and called on President Biden to intervene.

“I keep hearing he has the power,” Cherelle Griner said. “He is a political pawn. If they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.

The State Department announcement this month said Biden’s special envoy for hostage affairs would lead an interagency team to secure Griner’s release. But since then, Griner’s detention has been extended until June 18, and the Biden administration has said little about his maneuvers. Cherelle Griner said during the TV interview that his only communication with his wife has been through occasional letters. She said she was told his wife’s release was a top priority, but she expressed skepticism.

Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, has spoken publicly about Brittney Griner’s detention and worked with her representatives. He said Griner, who is from Houston, had access to his lawyer in Russia but was unable to speak with his family. It violated international standards, he said.

“The Russians have to be aware that we know what they are doing, we know why they are doing it and there will be consequences if something were to happen to them,” Allred said.

Griner’s family and friends have sought to pressure Russia and Biden while advocating for more support and media coverage in the United States.

“There’s not enough conversation about Brittney and her release and barely talking about it,” said Staley, the University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach. “And I know there is a process. I understand that.

She later added, “There are so many people who really know Brittney who don’t do anything, who don’t sympathize with the situation. I just want people to feel like it’s their beloved. And when you feel it’s your loved one, you’d do anything to help it. Everyone has to live their life, I understand, but come on. Show empathy.

Several WNBA players and a few from the NBA began to publicly advocate Griner’s release; during the first two and a half months after Griner’s detention, most had said only that they loved and missed her.

Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2018, tweets daily about Griner. DeWanna Bonner, who plays for the Connecticut Sun and was Griner’s teammate in Phoenix from 2013-2019, spoke about Griner during a recent press conference.

“One more thing,” she said. “Free BG We are BG We love BG Free her.”

In mid-May, the WNBA players’ union became an official partner in a Change.org petition to the White House, which urged Biden to do “whatever is necessary” to bring Griner home safely. security. The petition was started in March by Tamryn Spruill, a freelance journalist who has written for several outlets, including the New York Times, about the WNBA.

Representatives for Griner at the Wasserman Media Group promoted the petition to the media, but declined to comment on their approach to this article.

In an interview with ESPN on May 17, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked what role the league should play in Griner’s situation. The NBA owns 42.1% of the WNBA

Silver said the NBA had “a huge responsibility” to Griner but was muted in its support on the advice of experts who believed amplifying his situation could hamper his release. “That said,” Silver said, “the public has a huge role to play in protesting or letting their reps know how bad they feel about this.”

The day after Silver’s interview, three House Democrats introduced a resolution calling for Griner’s immediate release.

“This sends a clear message that the representatives of the American people support bringing Brittney home as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona, who presented the resolution with Allred and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. from Texas.

Fans on social media and at games have been voicing their urgent and urgent calls for months and expressing their frustration with the Griner camp for its initial strategy of silence. Some of Griner’s closest supporters had similar feelings but didn’t always think they could speak out publicly.

Jackson of the players’ union said the initial directive not to speak about Griner was difficult for WNBA players, known for their advocacy of LGBTQ rights, gender equity and social justice, in especially for women of color.

“It was maybe very different for us to realize that we had to be a little bit more patient, not so quick to talk, to really put in the time,” Jackson said.

In addition to following Cherelle Griner’s wishes, the players’ union sought the advice of Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, who holds a doctorate. student in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania, whose areas of study include African-American experiences in the Soviet Union, Ukraine, and Russia.

“Now that she’s been detained for so long,” St. Julian-Varnon said, “I think it’s appropriate to go into this second phase of, ‘OK, we’ve given Russia months. You freed Trevor Reed. So, let’s take the pressure back and show that we haven’t forgotten her and that she is still highly sought after at home.

Reed, a former Marine, was released in a prisoner exchange in April after being held in Russia since 2019 on charges of assault.

In an interview with CNN that aired last Sunday, Reed said media coverage of his case helped lead to his release.

Staley said she taped Reed talking about his detention so she could go over clues about what might help Griner.

“Trevor says you have to scream your head off. You need to get a meeting with the president,” Staley said. She added: “If you can get in front of him, it’s hard for him to say no to you. It’s hard for him to look a grieving parent or woman in the eye and say, ‘I can’t help it. TO DO.’

Because she won a national championship with South Carolina this year, Staley and her team will likely be invited to the White House to meet Biden soon.

“I’ll give Brittney’s wife, parents, family, I’ll give them our visit to the White House,” she said.

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