Brittney Griner is coming home. The WNBA star, 31, has been released from a Russian penal colony, President Joe Biden confirmed.
“Moments ago, I spoke to Brittney Griner,” Biden, 80, tweeted on Thursday, December 8, alongside photos of himself with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office. “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” he added.
The Biden administration negotiated the athlete’s release in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
In a press conference later on Thursday, the president said that he never stopped “pushing” for Griner’s freedom. “This is a day we’ve work towards for a long time,” Biden told reporters. “It took intense negotiations and I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release.”
Griner’s exchange took place in the United Arab Emirates, who the head of state also thanked. “These past few months have been hell for Brittney and Cherelle,” Biden continued. “People all across the country have learned about Brittney’s story and advocated for her release and stood with her throughout this terrible ordeal, and I know that support meant a lot to her family. I’m glad to be able to say that Brittney is in good spirits and relieved to finally be heading home.”
Tune in as I deliver an important announcement. https://t.co/2BVdSsmIFA
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
Biden added: “[Brittney] represents the best about America. She wrote to me back in July, she didn’t ask for special treatment, but requested a simple quote, ‘Please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.’ We never forgot about Brittney.”
He then handed the microphone to Cherelle, who expressed gratitude over her wife’s release. “I’m just standing here overwhelmed with emotions. The most important emotion that I have right now is sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration … Today my family is whole — but as you all are aware, there’s so many families that are not whole. [Brittney] and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home.”
The Texas native’s release comes after a judge found Griner guilty of trying to illegally smuggle narcotics into Russia after authorities found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17. (She was in the country to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season.)
On August 4, she was sentenced to nine years of prison time and a fine of 1 million rubles (approximately $16,400), according to CNN. At the time, Griner had already been in custody for months.
News of the athlete’s detention was not made public until several weeks later.