Brittney Griner, a player for the Phoenix Mercury women’s basketball team and a seven-time WNBA All-Star center, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport after customs agents found vape cartridges with hash oil in her luggage, the Associated Press reported.
The Russian Federal Customs Service did not specify the date of the arrest or identify the person arrested. Russian media, citing law enforcement, identified the person as Griner, the New York Times reported.
A video shared on Telegram by the customs agency appears to show Griner going through airport security and someone removing a package from her bag. The customs agency said it is investigating Griner for drug trafficking, which could mean a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The agency did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
In a statement shared with BuzzFeed News, the Phoenix Mercury said that they are "closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia" and are in contact with her family and representation.
“We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home,” the team said. The WNBA said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that its main priority is “her swift and safe return to the United States.”
A spokesperson for USA Basketball did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for confirmation about Griner's arrest but said in a statement that it is "aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia."
“Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns,” USA Basketball tweeted.
Griner, 31, played with the US women’s national basketball team in 2021 and 2016 for the Olympic Games; the US team won the gold medal both years. She has played with the Mercury for nine seasons, winning the championship in 2014. The Mercury made it to the WNBA Finals in 2021 and lost to the Chicago Sky. In 2013, Griner became the first openly gay athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Nike.
On Saturday her wife, Cherelle Griner, said in an Instagram post that support and prayers for Brittney's safe return from Russia were appreciated. She described what she was going through as "one of the weakest moments of my life."
"I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details," she wrote. "Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely."
On Saturday, teammate Brianna Turner tweeted a picture of herself with Griner, writing, "At a loss for words, but I know it will work itself out."
Former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III tweeted it was a "travesty" that Griner's identity was just now revealed, even though she was arrested in February.
During the US offseason, WNBA players often compete overseas, including in Russia, where they are paid better than in the US. When Griner signed a four-month contract to play during the 2013–14 offseason with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, a Chinese basketball team, her contract was reportedly worth 12 times more than her rookie season with the Mercury. Since 2014, Griner has played with UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian team, where her salary was more than four times her WNBA earnings, the AP reported.
ESPN reported on Feb. 27 that several WNBA players had been making plans to leave Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. The US Embassy in Moscow on Saturday advised US citizens to leave Russia immediately.
A WNBA spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Saturday that all of its players, except for Griner, had already left Russia and Ukraine.