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Release of Brittney Griner: After release from Russian custody, focus is on providing further support to Brittney Griner and her family, officials say

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After being imprisoned in Russia for nearly 10 months, WNBA star Brittney Griner’s safe return to the United States on Friday was marked by a stop at a military medical facility in Texas for a routine evaluation, a said the US State Department.

Griner arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, early Friday – the next leg of a journey back to US soil following what the US government described as wrongful detention that had often left his family and loved ones with little information or consolation.

“We are now working to ensure that the well-being of Brittney and her family is a priority and that all available assistance can be extended to them as appropriate,” the department’s senior deputy spokesperson said on Friday. of State, Vedant Patel, during a press conference.

Officials haven’t said how long Griner will be at the medical center, but the basketball star was “in good spirits” and “incredibly lovable” after his release, the Security Council spokesman told CNN. National, John Kirby.

Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for drug trafficking and later sentenced to 9 years in prison, was released as part of a prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia for the notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The swap, which took months to negotiate and drew mixed reactions in the United States for not also including fellow inmate Paul Whelan, happened on the tarmac at Abu Dhabi airport on Thursday.

Shortly after the successful exchange, US officials connected Griner to his family. That call “was as moving as it was unforgettable” to hear Griner talking on the phone with his wife, Cherelle, who was in attendance for an Oval Office meeting, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said.

“Their strength, their resilience, has been nothing but inspirational,” Blinken said.

Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee told CNN that Griner was able to call her father from the plane.

“They all want to see her and might even want to see her again here at home, but I know it was a happy phone meeting to hear her daughter’s voice,” she said.

Jackson Lee – who represents Texas’ 18th congressional district, including Griner’s hometown of Houston – said some aspects of the two-time Olympian’s current well-being “need to be reviewed”.

“We learn that she spoke to her family members here, she looked good, looking forward to seeing them, and we also know that she stepped on her own abilities both in terms of the exchange and then when she landed in San Antonio.”

In a statement, Griner’s family thanked President Joe Biden and the administration, as well as former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, whose Richardson Center worked on the family’s behalf to help secure Griner’s release. Griner and attempts to do the same for Whelan.

“We sincerely thank you all for the kind words, thoughts and prayers – including Paul and the Whelan family who have been generous with their support of Brittney and our family during what we know to be a heartbreaking time,” the statement read.

“We pray for Paul and for the speedy and safe return of all wrongfully detained Americans.”

While many are celebrating Griner’s return home — seen as a diplomatic victory between two of the world’s greatest nations in fierce conflict over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — the fate of Whelan’s release remains uncertain.

Whelan – an American, Irish, British and Canadian citizen – is currently imprisoned in a Russian penal colony after being arrested in December 2018 for espionage, which he has denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He, like Griner, had been declared wrongfully detained by US officials.

The United States has tried to persuade Russia to trade both Griner and Whelan for arms dealer Bout, but Russian officials have not budged on the issue, with Russia saying the Americans’ two cases were treated differently depending on the charges brought by each of them.

In an interview with CNN, Whelan expressed disappointment with how the negotiations went.

“This is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” Whelan told CNN in a phone interview. “I hope (Biden) and his administration will do everything they can to get me home, whatever price they may have to pay at this point.”

Biden insisted that his administration continue its efforts to bring Whelan home.

“It was not a choice of the American to take home,” Biden said Thursday. “Unfortunately, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And even though we haven’t been able to secure Paul’s release yet, we’re not giving up. We will never give up.

Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Friday that the public discussion surrounding a potential trade has “been very hard for my family to hear,” adding that she thinks her brother is “discussed as if his only value was what we should give up for him.

Asked about her family’s discussions with the US government over her brother’s imprisonment, Elizabeth Whelan said: ‘I think we’ve been pretty clear – that as far as I’m concerned, at least – my brother is worth more, has greater value than any Russian criminal.

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine charged with espionage and arrested in Russia, stands inside a cage of defendants during a hearing in a Moscow court on August 23, 2019. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/ AFP via Getty Images)

CNN speaks to Paul Whelan in an exclusive phone call from a Russian prison

Griner’s detention and subsequent return home has once again shed light on the pay disparity that female athletes face in the United States – prompting WNBA players to go overseas to compete. earn more in their off seasons, including in countries like Russia.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told CNN Friday night that while efforts are underway to raise the salary, there’s still a long way to go.

“For too long women’s sports have been undervalued, underinvested,” said Engelbert, who noted that less than 1% of all corporate sponsorship funding goes to women’s sports.

Engelbert also pointed out that the WNBA is a fairly young sports league, which was established in 1996. Still, she added that the organization is working on a three to five year plan to increase player salaries.

“We’re downsizing as we start to grow and build real momentum,” she said.

And because those changes are slowly happening, Engelbert said she thinks players will continue to play overseas, especially because the average WNBA tenure is about five years.

“We’re never going to stop them from making more money in leagues outside of the United States in our offseason. What we want is for them to come and play at the highest level once they’re back here at home.

Angel McCoughtry, a friend of Griner’s who also played in the Olympics and WNBA, also played for a Russian club in her offseason and admitted she earned more there. But she also said she wouldn’t return given how Griner was treated.

“Russia was a place that paid us a lot of money for our talent, more than being here in our own country,” McCoughtry told CNN on Friday. “Sad to say that I am rich not because of the WNBA, but because of my years abroad. I would earn my WNBA salary in a month abroad – all my salary”

McCoughtry said it was possible for WNBA players to earn more if they received the promotion level of their male counterparts.

“If you promote women like men, people will watch,” McCoughtry said. “Once we have the brand partnerships behind us and we promote ourselves and people know who we are, they will come and look at us. He will grow.

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