First image of WNBA star Brittney Griner after Russia arrest

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WNBA player Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia, with state media releasing the first image of the American star last weekend. Pictures: CNN/Getty Images
WNBA player Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia, with state media releasing the first image of the American star last weekend. Pictures: CNN/Getty Images

The first pictures of detained American basketball star Brittney Griner have been aired on Russian state TV programs in the wake of the WNBA player's arrest.

It is unclear exactly when Griner was placed under arrest, with Russian news stating the 31-year-old had been detained after cannabis oil had been found in her luggage roughly three weeks ago.

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Customs officials have not revealed when Griner was placed under arrest, with the image of Griner aired by Russian media last weekend undated, featuring her holding up a piece of paper with her name scrawled on it.

The Russian Federal Customs Service said Griner, who was not named in their statement via Russia’s Interfax News Agency, "was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York."

The agency said it has opened a criminal investigation into an alleged large-scale transportation of drugs, and offence that carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years in Russia.

Griner publicly said she was gay in 2013 after the WNBA draft and has said it was an "open secret" during her college career, but she was asked not to discuss it.

LGBTQ+ advocates have voiced particular concern for Griner based on Russia's anti-LGBTQ stances and laws.

"Our thoughts are with Brittney Griner, her loved ones, and her teammates during this terrifying ordeal," said a spokesperson for Athlete Ally, an organisation that advocates for LGBTQ rights in sports.

“Brittney has long been a powerful voice for LGBTQ equality. It's critical that now we use our collective voice to call for her safe and swift return to her family.”

Griner joined Russian Premier League powerhouse UMMC Yekaterinburg (also referenced as Ekaterinburg) in the 2015-16 season, and last played for the club on Jan. 29, days before the league's international break for FIBA World Cup qualification games in the first two weeks of February.

Family, friends of Brittney Griner working to secure release from Russia

The WNBA and its players association (WNBPA) issued statements of support for Griner and prioritizing bringing her home safely to the U.S.

Lindsay Kagawa Colas, her agent at Waserman, issued a statement the day news of Griner's arrest broke.

“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA," she said.

"As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”

US government officials are working to secure the release from Russia of WNBA star Brittney Griner. (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
US government officials are working to secure the release from Russia of WNBA star Brittney Griner. (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not comment specifically on Griner for "privacy considerations" when asked during a news conference in Moldova on Sunday.

“Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia," he said.

WNBA players and fans have taken to social media in support and worry of the superstar.

Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, called it "one of the weakest moments" of her life in an Instagram post on Sunday. She shared another on Monday with a group photo.

"My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that goes by," she wrote.

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