What Happened on Brittney Griner's Long Ride Home

'I have been in prison for 10 months now, listening to Russian. I want to talk.'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 11, 2022 2:30 PM CST
What Happened on Brittney Griner's Long Ride Home
In this image made from video provided by the Russian Federal Security Service, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner sits in the plane as she flies to Abu Dhabi to be exchanged for Russian citizen Viktor Bout on Friday.   (Russian Federal Security Service via AP)

WNBA star Brittney Griner didn't want any alone time as soon as she boarded a US government plane that would bring her home. "I have been in prison for 10 months now, listening to Russian. I want to talk," Griner said, according to Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, who helped secure the basketball star's release and bring her back to the US on Friday. She then asked Carstens, referring to others on the plane: "But, first of all, who are these guys?" "And she moved right past me and went to every member on that crew, looked them in the eyes, shook their hands, and asked about them, got their names, making a personal connection with them," Carstens recalled, per the AP. "It was really amazing."

Ultimately, Griner spent about 12 hours of the 18-hour flight talking with others on the plane, Carstens said. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix Mercury pro basketball star spoke about her time in the Russian penal colony and her months in captivity, Carstens recalled, although he declined to go into specific details. "I was left with the impression this is an intelligent, passionate, compassionate, humble, interesting person, a patriotic person," Carstens said. "But above all, authentic. I hate the fact that I had to meet her in this manner, but I actually felt blessed having had a chance to get to know her." Although Griner is undergoing a full medical and mental evaluation, Carstens said she appeared "full of energy, looked fantastic."

Meanwhile, administration officials continue to stress that they're still working to release Paul Whelan, whom Russian officials have jailed on espionage charges that both his family and the US government say are baseless. "They hold Mr. Whelan differently because of these espionage charges," John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "So we're working through that now." Carstens, the US government's top hostage negotiator, said "there's always cards" to play in securing an offer for Whelan and said he spoke with the jailed American on Friday. "I said, 'Paul, you have the commitment of this president. The president's focused. The secretary of state's focused. I'm certainly focused, and we're going to bring you home,'" Carstens said during an appearance on CNN's State of the Union.

(More Brittney Griner stories.)

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