After launch from Russian custody, focus is on offering Brittney Griner and her household extra help, officers say | CNN

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After being imprisoned in Russia for almost 10 months, WNBA star Brittney Griner’s secure return to the US on Friday was marked by a cease at a Texas army medical facility for a routine analysis, the US State Division mentioned.

Griner arrived at Brooke Military Medical Heart in San Antonio, Texas, early Friday – the following leg of a journey again on American soil following what the US authorities described as wrongful detainment that had typically left her household and family members with little data or comfort.

“We at the moment are centered on making certain that Brittney and her household’s well-being are prioritized and that each one accessible help could be provided to them via an acceptable method,” US State Division principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel mentioned at a information briefing Friday.

Officers haven’t specified for a way lengthy Griner will probably be on the medical middle, however the basketball star was “in good spirits” and “extremely gracious” following her launch, Nationwide Safety Council spokesperson John Kirby informed CNN.

Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow airport in February on drug fees and later sentenced to 9 years in jail, was launched as a part of a prisoner alternate between the US and Russia for infamous convicted arms supplier Viktor Bout.

The swap, which took months to barter and has drawn combined response within the US for not additionally together with fellow detainee Paul Whelan, occurred at an airport tarmac in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

Shortly after the swap was efficiently accomplished, US officers related Griner to her household. That decision “was as shifting because it was unforgettable” to listen to Griner converse on the cellphone along with her spouse, Cherelle, who was current for an Oval Workplace assembly, Secretary of State Tony Blinken mentioned.

“Their energy, their resilience, has been nothing however wanting inspiring,” Blinken mentioned.

Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee informed CNN Griner was capable of name her father from the aircraft.

“All of them wish to see her and would possibly even wish to see her again right here at residence, however I do know that was a contented cellphone reunion to listen to his daughter’s voice,” she mentioned.

Jackson Lee – who represents the 18th Congressional District of Texas together with Griner’s hometown of Houston – mentioned points of the two-time Olympian’s present welfare “need to be reviewed.”

“We hear that she has spoken to her relations right here, she sounded good, wanting ahead to seeing them, and we additionally know that she walked on her personal capabilities each by way of the swap after which when she landed in San Antonio.”

In an announcement, Griner’s household thanked President Joe Biden and the administration, together with former New Mexico Gov. Invoice Richardson, whose Richardson Heart labored on behalf of the household to assist guarantee Griner’s launch and is attempting to comply with go well with for Whelan.

“We sincerely thanks all for the sort phrases, ideas and prayers – together with Paul and the Whelan household who’ve been beneficiant with their help for Brittney and our household throughout what we all know is a heartbreaking time,” the assertion mentioned.

“We pray for Paul and for the swift and secure return of all wrongfully-detained People.”

Griner’s spouse, Cherelle Griner, issued an up to date assertion on her Instagram web page on Saturday afternoon, thanking the many individuals she mentioned supported her and Brittney throughout Griner’s imprisonment in Russia.

As she did in her assertion with President Biden on Thursday, Cherelle additionally referred to as for Paul Whelan and different People held abroad to be introduced residence.

“Yesterday my coronary heart was made complete because of the collective efforts of MANY! I’m humbled by their hearts. To care for an additional, a stranger to some, a good friend to some— is humanity in its purest type!” Griner’s spouse wrote.

“As BG and I begin our journey to heal our minds, physique, and spirits— I wished to personally say thanks to among the fingers; seen and unseen, that helped make it doable for me to see my spouse once more!” her assertion continued.

Whereas many are celebrating Griner’s return residence – seen as a diplomatic win between two of the world’s largest nations at fierce odds over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the destiny of Whelan’s launch stays unclear.

Whelan – a US, Irish, British and Canadian citizen – is presently imprisoned in a Russian penal colony after he was arrested in December 2018 on espionage fees, which he has denied. He was sentenced to 16 years in jail. He, like Griner, had been declared wrongfully detained by US officers.

The US tried to steer Russia to swap each Griner and Whelan for arms supplier Bout, however Russian officers wouldn’t budge on the matter, with Russia saying each of the People’ circumstances had been dealt with otherwise based mostly on the costs every of them confronted.

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

“It is a precarious state of affairs that must be resolved shortly,” Whelan informed CNN in a cellphone interview. “I might hope that (Biden) and his administration would do every thing they might to get me residence, whatever the worth they may need to pay at this level.”

Biden insisted that his administration continues its efforts to carry Whelan residence.

“This was not a selection of which American to carry residence,” Biden mentioned Thursday. “Sadly, for completely illegitimate causes, Russia is treating Paul’s case otherwise than Brittney’s. And whereas we’ve not but succeeded in securing Paul’s launch, we’re not giving up. We’ll by no means hand over.”

Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth Whelan, informed CNN’s Erin Burnett on Friday that the general public dialogue surrounding a possible swap has “been very tough for my household to listen to,” including she believes her brother is being “mentioned as if his solely worth was what we must hand over for him.”

Requested about her household’s discussions with the US authorities concerning her brother’s imprisonment, Elizabeth Whelan mentioned, “I feel we’ve made it fairly clear – that so far as I’m involved, not less than – my brother is price extra, has a better worth than any Russian legal.”

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine accused of spying and arrested in Russia stands inside a defendants' cage during a hearing at a court in Moscow 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 unique cellphone name from Russian jail

Griner’s detention and subsequent return residence has as soon as once more spotlighted the pay disparity girls athletes face within the US – which has pushed WNBA gamers to go abroad to earn extra throughout their off-seasons, together with nations akin to Russia.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert informed CNN Friday night that though efforts have been ongoing to extend the pay, there’s nonetheless a protracted technique to go.

“For too lengthy girls sports activities have been undervalued, under-invested in,” mentioned Engelbert, who famous that lower than 1% of all company sponsorship funding goes to girls’s sports activities.

Engelbert additionally identified that the WNBA is a reasonably younger sports activities league, which was established in 1996. Nonetheless, she added the group is engaged on a three-to-five-year plan to drive up gamers’ pay.

“We’re chipping away as we begin to develop and construct actual momentum,” she mentioned.

And as these adjustments are slowly underway, Engelbert mentioned she believes gamers will proceed to play abroad, particularly as a result of the typical tenure within the WNBA is about 5 years.

“We’re by no means going to preclude them from making extra money in leagues outdoors the US throughout our offseason. What we would like is them to return and play on the highest stage as soon as they’re again right here at residence.”

Angel McCoughtry, a good friend of Griner’s who additionally performed within the Olympics and WNBA, performed for a Russian membership as effectively throughout her offseason and acknowledged that she earned extra there. However she additionally mentioned she wouldn’t return contemplating how Griner was handled.

“Russia was a spot that paid us some huge cash for our expertise, greater than being right here in our personal nation,” McCoughtry informed CNN on Friday. “It’s unhappy to say I’m rich not due to the WNBA, however my years abroad. I might make my WNBA wage in a single month abroad – my complete wage”

McCoughtry mentioned it’s doable for WNBA gamers to earn extra in the event that they obtain the extent of promotion their male counterparts do.

“If you happen to promote the ladies similar to the lads, individuals will watch,” McCoughtry mentioned. “As soon as we get the model partnerships behind us and selling us and other people know who we’re, they’ll come to observe. It should develop.”

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