From the outside, it seems very little headway is occurring regarding Brittney Griner‘s situation.
However, U.S. State Department officials met on Monday with Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, to talk over her detention in Russia and the strategic endeavors the Biden administration will employ to facilitate her release, according to NBC News.
The seven-time WNBA All-Star player is one of the league’s top-tier athletes. The New York Times reports that she has been detained since Feb. 17, when Russian customs officials allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage at a Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Once the meeting with the State Department concluded, the Mercury players and staff sat down with Congressman Greg Stanton of Arizona and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who hails from Griner’s hometown of Houston, NBC News reports.
“For the team, coaches and executives at the Mercury, every day without Brittney is a lifetime,” Stanton said. “I was glad for the opportunity to share the work we’re doing in Congress to secure Brittney’s release.”
In May, a State Department official classification changed to “wrongfully detained,” and the direction of her case would be supervised by the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), Roger Carstens, as told to CNN.
Griner’s new designation permits the U.S. government to negotiate her release rather than wait for the completion of her Russian trial. CBS News reports that the Biden administration also enlisted Bill Richard, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations with several years of experience as an international hostage negotiator.
“It’s something that we’ve all talked about intimately as a group, and now knowing the State Department at the highest level, from U.S. President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it,” said Griner’s teammate Diana Taurasi in an official statement.
“Anything that we can do on our side to amplify and to put B.G. first will be our No. 1 priority.”
In addition to negotiating Griner’s release, NBC News reports that the U.S. government is also in talks to bring home Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive arrested on espionage charges.
WNBA players have sent emails and letters to Griner through an account her agent created. After Russian officials peruse the correspondences, Griner then receives them. For her teammates and colleagues to receive her responses, her lawyers scan her replies and send them back to the players.
“We are on day 116 since B.G. has been wrongfully detained. It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring B.G. home,” Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “She’s our teammate, she’s an American, and we want her back home.”