Retired basketball icon Lisa Leslie said that she and other players in women’s basketball “were told” not to speak out too much about the arrest and detainment of lesbian WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia over fears she would become a “political pawn.”
Leslie, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who played for the Los Angeles Sparks, made the comments in a recent episode of the I Am Athlete podcast.
“What we were told was to not make a big fuss about it so that they could not use her as a pawn, so to speak, in this situation and war,” Leslie said in the episode that aired Monday.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and plays for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. She was arrested in February at a Moscow airport. Griner has been playing for a Russian women's team for several years during the WNBA's offseason. Russian authorities have accused her of smuggling a narcotic substance. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.
News of Griner’s arrest only circulated in the media after Russian outlets ran the story, which brought up questions over why the basketball star's story wasn’t bigger. Griner’s arrest was announced just a week following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The timing caused some to speculate that Russian officials wanted to use Griner as leverage against the U.S., HuffPost reports.
Leslie didn’t say where the request to keep things quiet about Griner’s arrest came from.
“I won’t say who said that but it’s kind of what’s been spreading throughout the women’s basketball world,” she said in the interview.
She added that it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s heartbreaking for all of us,” Leslie said.
Last week, U.S. officials were finally able to meet with Griner for the first time since her arrest. She was “in good condition,” according to the official.
Watch Leslie's interview below.