Al Sharpton wants Biden to set up a meeting for faith leaders and jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia: 'She deserves to see the United States is doing something for her'

·4 min read
Al Sharpton and Brittney Griner
A composite image of civil rights leader Al Sharpton and WNBA superstar Brittney Griner. In this photo, Griner is being escorted to a Russian court.ent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images ; Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
  • Rev. Al Sharpton called on Biden to do more to get WNBA star Brittney Griner home.

  • The civil rights leader also pushed the president to set up a meeting between Griner and faith leaders.

  • "She deserves to see the United States is doing something for her," Sharpton said in a statement.

Rev. Al Sharpton called on President Joe Biden to arrange a meeting between the civil rights leader, faith leaders, and Brittney Griner as the WNBA superstar faces trial in Russia on charges of carrying hashish oil.

Sharpton said he's "deeply concerned" for Griner's "physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing" and asked Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to facilitate the meeting "so we can pray over Brittney in prison."

"She deserves to see the United States is doing something for her, so she can find the strength as this show trial goes on," Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network, said in a statement.

Al Sharpton
The Rev. Al Sharpton.David Degner/Insider

"Brittney's family also deserves to hear from someone who has met with and spoken to her," he added. "Four months is too long for this to have gone on, and I hope the President acts on her pleas to come home."

Sharpton's statement comes amid heightened pressure from Griner and her family for the White House to do more to get the two-time Olympic gold medalist out of custody. Griner, who has been jailed since Russian officials claimed to have found vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport in February, wrote an emotional letter to Biden contrasting the Fourth of July with her incarceration.

"As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I'm terrified I might be here forever," the Phoenix Mercury player wrote in her handwritten plea, per an excerpt from the letter.

Brittney Griner.
Griner plays for Team USA.Charlie Neibergall/AP

The White House reiterated that it is going everything that it can to help the WNBA star, but did not explicitly address Sharpton's proposal.

"We believe the Russian Federation is wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner," National security council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told Insider in a statement. "The U.S. government continues to work aggressively – using every available means – to bring her home."

From the early days following Griner's arrest, the Biden administration quietly worked to negotiate her release and safe return to the US. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Insider the muted response contributed to the league's internal strategy to "say less and push more privately."

Brittney Griner.
Griner with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury.AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

But early in May, the US shifted its approach by officially designating Griner as "wrongfully detained" — a move that sends a "strong signal that the US government does not believe that there is a legitimate case against her," one expert who has navigated several hostage situations previously told Insider.

The "wrongfully detained" designation also enabled the seven-time All-Star's friends, family, teammates, and supporters to openly campaign for her return to the States. Griner's wife, Cherelle, has made several TV appearances in recent weeks in an effort to draw attention to the case.

Cherelle has repeatedly lamented in public the fact that she still has not spoken directly to Biden, who is understood to be the individual best suited to secure Griner's freedom. But since her initial detention, Griner has been caught in the middle of rapidly deteriorating US-Russian relations following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The two nations have exchanged tit-for-tat sanctions for years, which has only escalated in the face of a Western bloc opposed to the war. In a sign of how bad things are, just last week the Kremlin slapped sanctions on first lady Jill Biden and the first couple's daughter, Ashley.

Sharpton is a political ally of the president, who just last year welcomed Biden to the National Action Network's annual conference. The civil rights leader has also pressured Biden to be more forceful on key issues, particularly voting rights. 

Griner's trial — which experts tell Insider is nothing more than a "show trial" with a "predetermined" outcome — began last week. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

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