Brittney Griner said she won’t compete abroad ‘unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics’

A roundup of conversations we're having daily on the site. Subscribe to the Reckon Daily for stories centering marginalized communities and speaking to the under-covered issues of the moment.

Brittney Griner won’t be competing in international games anymore, the WNBA star said during a press conference Thursday.

“I’m never going overseas to play again unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics,” she told reporters in Phoenix. “If I make that team, that’d be the only time I would leave the U.S. soil and that’s just to represent the USA.”

The 32-year-old athlete took questions from the press before the start of the upcoming WNBA season, during which Griner will play for the Phoenix Mercury. It marked the first time she spoke in detail about the 10 months she spent in a Russian prison to members of the media.

At times, she fought back tears. “I’m no stranger to hard times,” she said.

Russian officials traded Griner in December for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. She’d been sentenced to nine years in prison for drug-smuggling charges after officials found cannabis oil in her luggage.

Griner explained that athletes typically feel the need to compete abroad in order to financially sustain their careers.

“A lot of us go over there to make an income to support our families, to support ourselves,” she said.

Griner answered questions about how she coped with being in prison, being back on the court and illegal detainees currently in Russia, in particular Evan Gerskovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter that was arrested in March on espionage charges.

He’s being held in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow, where he’ll remain until May 29. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

It had initially been speculated that Russian officials would trade Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia, for Bout.

However, U.S. officials said they were left with one choice: Griner or no one.

“I would say to everyone that is wrongfully detained right now across the world, stay strong, keep fighting, don’t give up,” Griner said. “Just keep waking up, find a little routine and stick to that routine.”

The first time her hands touched a basketball following her arrest was in San Antonio, Texas, where illegal detainees typically go for psychological and medical care following their imprisonment overseas.

“I was like, let me just see if I could still throw this thing down and I did,” she said, joking that reporters should ask her wife, Cherelle Griner, what it felt like to be “dunked on.”

The athlete said she plans to continue using her platform to advocate for social justice issues, including people wrongfully detained abroad and trans athletes facing bans on playing across the country.

Last week, the House passed legislation that would bar trans women and girls from playing on women’s sports teams at schools and universities supported by the federal government. The bill is expected to die in the Senate and President Biden has indicated that he would veto it.

Individual states have taken similar action.

“That ranks high on the list of things that I’ll be fighting for and speaking up against,” Griner said. “Everyone deserves the right to play, everyone deserves the right to come here, sit in these seats and feel safe and not feel like there’s a threat or they can’t be who they are.”

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.