Dec 16 (Reuters) – U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, who on Friday left an Army medical center where she had been recuperating following her release from a Russian penal colony as part of a prisoner swap, said she would work to help bring other detained Americans home and planned to resume her WNBA career.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) All-Star, left the Brooke Army Medical Center a week after she arrived at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, CNN reported.
“The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going,” she said in her first public statement since returning to the United States.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” she said, referring to the former U.S. Marine still being held in Russia. “I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you.”
Griner arrived at the medical center last Friday after U.S. officials secured her freedom from Russia in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Griner, 32, was arrested on Feb. 17 at an airport outside Moscow for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
She was subsequently convicted of drug smuggling and later transferred to one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies, where former inmates have described torture, harsh beatings and slave labor conditions.
Griner said she plans to return to her WNBA team.
“I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” she said.
‘BRING ALL AMERICANS HOME’
Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden announced the release last week from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, standing by.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia,” Biden said at the time, prompting cheers from the sports world and many others but sharp criticism from some Republicans.
Former President Donald Trump, who was in the White House when Whelan was detained in late 2018, nevertheless derided the exchange without the ex-Marine, calling it “a ‘stupid’ and unpatriotic embarrassment.”
House of Representatives Republican leader Kevin McCarthy called the deal “a gift to Vladimir Putin.”
U.S. officials pressed for the release of both Griner and Whelan, who is being held on what Washington called “sham” espionage charges, a Biden administration official said.
The official said that Moscow, however, insisted on treating Whelan’s case differently, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling the Griner swap a “one or none” deal.
Griner, who posted a photo of herself stepping off a plane to her Instagram account on Friday, said she planned to spend the holidays with her family and called on her supporters to advocate for other Americans held abroad.
“(I) encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home,” said Griner. “Every family deserves to be whole.”
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Berkrot)