Brittney Griner’s Former Coach Speaks Out on Player’s Russian Captivity

by Patrick Norton

As Brittney Griner’s imprisonment for possession of illegal substances rages on in Russia, bringing her home remains at the forefront of stateside political discourse. However, with the WNBA star’s recent sentencing, Griner’s former U.S. Olympic team head coach is speaking out.

Dawn Staley coached Team USA to a gold medal in the 2020 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan last summer – delayed by COVID-19. Staley also served as an assistant to Geno Auriemma’s gold-medal staff in 2016’s Olympic games. Griner played an integral role in each victorious run.

Speaking with USA Today, Staley spoke out against the communist country’s harsh penalty and cruel punishment for political gain. The coach said, “I’ve been following Brittney’s case for quite some time and I’ve been in contact with her representatives.”

Staley – currently the head coach for the University of South Carolina’s back-to-back national championship-winning women’s basketball team – knows that the sentencing is only a formality. However, that doesn’t change her thought process and perspective.

“We knew it was going to happen that way, so I wasn’t heartbroken,” Staley said. “I do believe people are working on her behalf to bring her home. This was a step that was necessary in order for them to begin the discussions of a prisoner swap. I truly believe we need to do whatever is necessary to bring our American citizens home.”

Dawn Staley includes the name of another American captive, Paul Whelan. Russian authorities accused Whelan of spying while in the country. A former U.S. Marine, Whelan worked as a security consultant prior to his arrest. Staley ends saying, “We must exhaust every option to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home.”

Brittney Griner’s Detainment Approaches 200 Days

Today (August 6) marks Griner’s 170th day of captivity. Arrested for carrying a vape pen with cannabis oil, the WNBA star entered Russian custody on February 17. Hopefully the sentencing hearing jumpstarts negotiations between the Kremlin and United States to bring the foreign prisoners home safely.

However, the cost of a swap remains a hotly contested debate in the U.S. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken all but confirmed the possibility of sending U.S. prisoner Viktor Bout in return for Griner and Whelan. However, controversy becomes a major plot point as the country barrels toward midterm elections.

Bout – nicknamed “The Merchant of Death” – poses a threat to Americans, charged with plotting to kill statesmen and aiding terrorists in 2008. However, the criminal represents the best available trade chip for the United States in negotiations with the hostile communist country.