Brittney Griner leaves the court hand in hand with wife Cherelle Griner

‘Distraught’: Detained WNBA star Brittney Griner can’t talk to woman due to lack of US embassy staff

WNBA star Brittney Griner tried almost a dozen times on Saturday to call her wife through the US embassy in Russia, but was unable to connect because the phone line at the embassy was reportedly unmanned.

Cherelle Griner provided the update on Monday, saying the calls came on the date of the couple’s fourth anniversary.

The pair have been unable to speak by phone in the four months since the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s arrest in Russia, where she remains in prison.

Their long-awaited phone call was set to take place on Saturday, after the couple finally received approval from the Russian government.

The day came and went without any contact, leaving a haunted Cherelle Griner to wonder what went wrong.

On Monday, she said she learned that Brittney Griner had attempted to call 11 times over a period of several hours, dialing a number given to her by the US embassy in Moscow.

The couple had been informed that the call would be transferred to Cherelle Griner in Phoenix.

WNBA fans protest Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia. Getty Image: Corbis/Ira L Black

But every time Brittney Griner called, the call went unanswered, as the desk at the embassy where the phone rang on Saturday was apparently unmanned.

“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, I was fed up,” Cherelle Griner told The Associated Press, adding that she was in tears.


“I’m pretty sure I texted [Brittney Griner’s] officer and said, “I don’t want to talk to anyone. It takes me a while to sort out my emotions, and tell everyone I’m not available right now.”

“It just knocked me out. I wasn’t good. I’m still not good.”

Brittney Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained at a Russian airport on February 17 after authorities there said that when her bag was searched, vaping cartridges containing hash oil were found

The State Department released a statement Monday saying it “deeply regrets that Brittney Griner was unable to speak to her wife due to a logistical error”.

The department reiterated that it does not prioritize the safety of Americans abroad and that it maintains regular contact with families of hostages and illegitimate detainees.

In an interview with the American television network NBC NewsKremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the American basketball player was guilty of drug offenses and denied that she was a hostage.

For Cherelle Griner, the experience has exacerbated already simmering frustrations over the US government’s response to her wife’s case.

While US officials have repeatedly said they were working behind the scenes to bring the WNBA star home from Russia, Cherelle Griner said she was “very pissed off” about the incident.


“I find it unacceptable and I don’t have any faith in our government at the moment,” she said.

“That’s a much bigger demand than to be called on a Saturday.”

Cherelle Griner said a US government contact had apologized for the mistake.

She added that she had since learned that the number Brittney Griner had been given to call normally handles calls from inmates Monday through Friday, so there was no one to put the call through.

When Brittney Griner was arrested in May, the State Department labeled her unjustly detained and moved her case under the supervision of the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, effectively the government’s chief negotiator.

Russian state news agency Tass reported last week that her detention had been extended until July 3.

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