Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury call attention to Americans detained overseas
In a storybook moment that captivated fans worldwide, Brittney Griner, the center for Phoenix Mercury, scored the opening basket Sunday night in her first regular season home game since she was imprisoned in Russia.
Griner, who was held on drug-related charges in Russia for nearly 10 months, was freed last December in a prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Phoenix Mercury lost Sunday’s game, but Griner dominated, scoring 27 points.
Vince Kozar, president of Phoenix Mercury, and his team have joined forces with the advocacy group Bring Our Families Home to call attention to Americans who are detained overseas. By one count, from the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, more than 50 U.S. citizens or permanent residents are currently being held worldwide.
“The biggest fear of these folks is being forgotten because they’re over there all alone,” Kozar said.
As part of the initiative, fans have the opportunity to write letters during home games to those who are detained. The simple yet impactful gesture holds great significance, as Griner herself said letters helped her during challenging times in detainment.
“When you get those letters, you know you have some really bad days and you get hope. That helped me out a lot to just keep hope alive,” Griner said.
Neda Sharghi, who helped launch Bring Our Families Home last year, said Griner’s comeback serves beyond basketball. Her brother, Emad, has been wrongfully detained in Iran for five years. She said the support Griner received from Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA and fans after her detainment was inspiring. She said they made sure Griner was not forgotten “for one second.”
Kozar said he wants to make sure the Americans who are still detained are safe.
“It’s a constant reminder that this isn’t a finish line today,” Kozar said.