12 News Staff, Associated Press Staff
PHOENIX — Arizonans are offering their sympathies and hopes after Phoenix Mercury star and Olympic gold-medalist Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison for carrying cannabis oil into the country.
Prior to the Mercury's game against the Connecticut Suns Thursday afternoon, the two times stood in solidarity for 42 seconds, which is Griner's jersey number.
A conviction is usually the first step to arranging a U.S. prisoner exchange and also allows Griner to apply for a presidential pardon. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last month that the “necessary judicial procedures” must be completed before any other steps can be taken.
An exchange is something Griner's team back in Arizona is hoping for. The Phoenix Mercury team released the following statement on Thursday after the conviction:
"While we knew it was never the legal process that was going to bring our friend home, today’s verdict is a sobering milestone in the 168-day nightmare being endured by our sister, BG.
We remain heartbroken for her, as we have every day for nearly six months.
We remain grateful to and confident in the public servants working every day to return her to her family and us.
We remain faithful the Administration will do what it takes to end her wrongful detention.
We are inspired every day by BG’s strength and we are steadfastly committed to keeping her top-of-mind publicly until she is safely back on American soil.
We will not allow her to be forgotten. We are BG.”
U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona also shared his sympathies while expressing his doubts about the fairness of the trial.
“This trial was a sham from the very beginning—and today’s excessive, unjust sentence makes it clearer than ever that Brittney Griner is being held by Russia for purely political purposes," Stanton said in a statement. "Pushing for her immediate release must continue to be a top priority, and I won’t stop working until she’s home safe.”
Stanton will continue looking into the Griner situation with the U.S. State Department and Administration.
Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard spoke about Griner's sentencing before the team's game against the Connecticut Sun, saying this has been one of the toughest days for her team since Griner's arrest.
"It was really tough to see BG today and to hear her words," Nygaard said. "(It has been) a really emotional day for our whole team. But we know we weren't hanging our hopes on the Russian justice system. We know that the Biden Administration and all of our government officials are going to work hard to bring her home and that's the path she's going to come home."
Nygaard added that the Mercury watched the verdict announcement together before their shootaround Thursday morning and that her players' emotions have been building all day.
"None of our days are as tough as any of BG's days, right? So, we always keep that in mind," Nygaard said. "And then just to go out there and do basketball, just basketball just doesn't seem like the thing today. It just doesn't seem super important. Of course, we are prepared, the players were very professional came out did what they needed to do, and we prepared for the game. But there's, there's so much, going back and listening to her words today, seeing how she's treated in Russia, seeing her condition, but just hearing her apologies in those things. It is just heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking for me, and I know for many of our players, and I'm hopeful that we can have a strong performance tonight. But it just doesn't seem like it's all about the basketball game. And we've been talking about it every day. It's today's 168 days that BG has been wrongfully detained. And this just seems like a big one."
The Phoenix Suns also tweeted out the statement in support of Griner.
Among those sharing their reaction to the Griner news online was former Arizona Cardinals player Bertrand Berry.
"Unbelievable," he wrote in a tweet. "#FreeBrittneyGriner."
Athletes and celebrities from across the globe took to social media to show their support for the Mercury star. A quick search for Griner's name on Twitter and Facebook shows hundreds of messages of support.