President Biden met with the families of WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan earlier this week for the first time since the pair was jailed in Russia.
“We, the president, [the] state department, this institution, myself… other parts of our government… are working every single day to try to bring Americans who are being arbitrarily detained or unjustly held anywhere in the world… to bring them home. To bring them freedom,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a White House press conference last week. “That applies to Brittney and Paul certainly as well.”
Griner was vocal in the past about the income disparity between the NBA and the WNBA. To make up for it, women basketball players play overseas in countries like Russia because they can earn almost 10 times their salary in the United States.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual earnings for women in the U.S. in 2021 was just 83.1 percent of the median for men.
In a press briefing this week, National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan stated that “the U.S. has been in direct contact with the Russians on a regular basis for the past few months.” But despite their best efforts, U.S. officials admit negotiations with their Russian counterparts have not moved as fast as they would like.
Russia rejected the U.S. offer to exchange Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer jailed in the U.S., for Griner and Whelan.
Griner’s legal team has appealed her nine-year sentence for carrying marijuana concentrate hashish oil in her luggage, while Whelan has 14 years left on his 16-year sentence for espionage-related charges that he says are false.