Brittney Griner received a standing ovation at the NAACP Image Awards Saturday night and made a plea to bring home other Americans detained overseas as she had been.
The WNBA star and her wife, Cherelle Griner, made a surprise appearance at the awards ceremony at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Southern California. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia for 10 months last year on drug-smuggling charges and was released in December in a prisoner swap.
Host Queen Latifah introduced the couple by saying, “As we gather here tonight, In the spirit of overcoming adversity, I want to take this moment to recognize someone who has done just that,” according to People.
Brittney and Cherelle Griner then took the stage. After the standing ovation, Cherelle was the first to speak. “Thank you for that beautiful applause,” she said. “We are just truly so thankful to all the people — many of whom are Black women and Black-led organizations — who fought so hard to bring BG home tonight.”
Then Brittney said, “It feels so good to be here, especially with my beautiful, amazing wife and with all of y’all here today. I want to thank everyone, and let’s keep fighting to bring home every American still detained overseas.”
Brittney Griner was taken into custody by Russian authorities in February 2022 at an airport near Moscow. She was in the nation to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg. Like many WNBA athletes, she plays overseas to supplement her income from her U.S. team. After traces of cannabis oil were found in vape cartridges in her luggage, she was charged with drug smuggling.
She said that bringing the cartridges was a mistake and that she never intended to bring drugs into Russia. She pleaded guilty, however, and was sentenced to nine years in prison. She appealed her sentence but lost. She was eventually transferred to a Russian penal colony, where harsh treatment is common.
Griner was released in December in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. President Joe Biden’s administration had also been seeking the release of Paul Whelan, an American detained on espionage charges he says or false. But Russia offered only to release Griner.
She recently signed to play another year with the Phoenix Mercury.