On eve of Brittney Griner’s guilty plea, community holds rally for Mercury star

At a Footprint Center rally, Brittney Griner’s teammates and coaches talked about how they hoped for Griner’s safe return from Russian captivity. (Photo by Omar Iakub/Cronkite News)

Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig spoke to attendees, urging them to sign the petition for Griner’s immediate release from prison. (Photo by Omar Iakub/Cronkite News)

Supporters attending the public rally for Griner at Footprint center raised their signs in support for the Mercury star’s release from Russian prison. (Photo by Omar Iakub/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – An emotional, impassioned Cherelle Griner addressed a fervent crowd at the “Bring BG Home” rally at the Footprint Center Wednesday evening. Roughly 300 in attendance showed support for Brittney Griner, who remains imprisoned in Russia and faces up to 10 years if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.

“One hundred thirty-nine days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to me, to our family and our friends,” a choked-up Cherelle said.

The rally was co-hosted by the Mercury and Arizona congressman Greg Stanton. Stanton, a Mercury season ticket holder and former mayor of Phoenix, has been working with the White House in securing Griner’s release; however, he also saw value in getting the community together to support Griner.

(Video by Ruby Arora/Cronkite News)

“I know there’s a highly skilled group of individuals working on her case, but it’s important that President Biden and the State Department know they have the full support of the American people to do whatever it takes to bring Brittney Griner home,” Stanton said.

Griner was taken into custody on Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport. There’s no timetable for Griner’s return or the length of her trial, which could take weeks or even months. In a handwritten letter that was delivered to President Joe Biden Monday, Griner said, “I’m terrified I might be here forever.” On Thursday at a court in Khimki, Russia, Brittney pleaded guilty to bringing hash oil into the country.

“But there was no intent,” Brittney said in English, which was later translated into Russian for the court. “I didn’t want to break the law.”

The guilty plea doesn’t end the trial. Griner told the court she needed more time to prepare her testimony and would say more during the next court hearing on July 14.

Prosecutors said Griner “bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil.” Cannabis oil is classified as a narcotic drug in Russia and subject to control. Griner told the court that she accidentally packed the vape cartridges.

According to the U.S. government, Griner is “wrongfully detained,” and Biden spoke to Cherelle Wednesday, telling her he was working to have her released “as soon as possible,” according to the White House.

“The Russian criminal justice system is an unjust system,” Stanton said at the rally. “So regardless of what happens in the trial it doesn’t matter. She’s wrongfully detained and … she’s one of 59 wrongfully detained Americans around the globe. This special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs is specifically set up to do whatever it takes to bring those folks home … That’s what gives me hope.”

Vice President of the Phoenix Suns & Mercury and Mercury broadcaster Ann Meyers Drysdale emceed the 46-minute event which featured guest speakers, video tributes, poetry and performative dance.

Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, spoke adamantly to the attendees about her wife and urged President Biden to help in her release. (Photo by Omar Iakub/Cronkite News)

Meyers Drysdale, who was also choked up at times, said the event’s goals were to make voices heard in support of Griner, gather as many signatures on a petition asking for Griner’s return and celebrate Griner who has played in Phoenix since 2013.

The majority of Griner’s Mercury teammates were on hand for the rally. Diana Taurasi and Diamond DeShields were unable to attend due to non-COVID illness.

Other speakers included Suns executive Vice President Jim Pitman, Suns forward Torrey Craig, former WNBA player Imani McGee-Stafford, spoken word poet Lady Caress and Mercury forward Brianna Turner.

Turner, who received a letter from Griner before the rally, shared some of her favorite Griner memories, which included anecdotes about Griner donating meals and money to the homeless on roadtrips, as well as riding Lime scooters around Indianapolis.

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“I told her how she was going to be an honorary All-Star starter, and BG’s got a great sense of humor,” Turner said. “She told me that she probably had the worst stat line because she wouldn’t be in the game. To know BG is to know such a kind spirit, such a nice person, such a giver — I can go on and on about the type of person she is. We need to get her back home. She deserves to be home. She needs to be back with her family and friends. We are BG.”

Cherelle, who was the final speaker at the event, said she was beyond hurt.

“I assure you that what and how I feel is no longer hurt by the impact of this tragedy,” Cherelle said. “What and how I feel today is a deeper emotion than hurt. I’m frustrated.

“I’m frustrated my wife is not going to get justice. I know you all are frustrated, too. That’s why you’re here.”

While Griner is a former No. 1 overall pick, WNBA champion, eight-time WNBA All-Star, two-time WNBA scoring champion and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, many of the guest speakers emphasized how Griner is just like everyone else.

“I don’t think someone should have to be extraordinary or exemplary for their country to protect them,” McGee-Stafford, wearing a “We Are BG” shirt, said as she read a poem in the midst of applause from the crowd. “As we wear proudly on these shirts, we tell you again and tomorrow, and the day after that, we are all BG.”

David Veenstra(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

David Veenstra expects to graduate in August 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Veenstra has covered ASU track and field for Inferno Intel.

Ruby Arora(she/her)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Ruby Arora is working on a second master’s degree in sports journalism. Arora has interned under NBA managers and NFL affiliates, most recently Pacers Sports & Entertainment. Her first master’s degree is in sports management; she also has a business marketing degree. Arora has a graduate assistantship at the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at ASU.

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Omar Iakub expects to graduate in August 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Iakub has interned as a social media marketer at Green Desert in Phoenix.