June 3, 2023

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who became the focus of a geopolitical confrontation between the United States and Russia last year, said Thursday her management team has been in touch with the family of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter detained in Russia and classified by the United States government as an unlawful detainee.

Ms Griner, who was held in Russia for nearly 10 months last year, spoke to news reporters in a prisoner swap for the first time since her release in December. She said no one, including Mr. Gershkovich, deserved an experience comparable to her imprisonment. “No one should be in those circumstances,” she said.

Ms. Griner’s press conference came as the United States and Russia clashed over the detention of Mr. Gershkovich, who is accused of espionage. He was detained by Russian security services in late March and charged with espionage in mid-April, a charge his employer and US officials vehemently deny.

Ms. Griner said she had not spoken directly to Mr. Gershkovich’s family, but that the Mercury and Wasserman, the agency representing her, had “shared knowledge, which is important.”

She added: “It goes a long way because I mean you’re in strange territory and you’re in uncharted waters. So there’s a lot we might know that they didn’t know, so there’s been a lot of communication between both teams.”

Also on Thursday, three major US newspapers jointly called for Mr Gershkovich’s release, running a full-page ad in each of their print editions. The ad, published in the Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times, said the arrest was “the latest in a disturbing trend of journalists being harassed, arrested or worse for reporting the news.”

“Reporting is not a crime,” the ad read.

Mr. Gershkovich was arrested during a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, the same city where Ms. Griner had played professionally during the WNBA season to earn extra money.

She said on Thursday she had no plans to play outside the United States again unless she represented the country at the Olympics.

But she also said she wouldn’t “knock” any player who wanted to go abroad to supplement their WNBA salary. “It’s a shame that we have to leave our families for vacations,” Griner said. “I mean, you’re missing out on everything, but as much as I’d love to pay my light bill for the love of the game, I can’t.”

Chris Rim reported from Phoenix and Alan Yuhas reported from New York.