WNBA commissioner says Brittney Griner​’s recovery is “going to take a while”

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WNBA star Brittney Griner stepped off a plane in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday after being released from a Russian penal colony in exchange for a notorious arms dealer. Now, she needs “time and space” as she begins to recover, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told CBS News. 

“Mental, emotional and physical are things that — you know, that recovery is going to take a while, I am sure,” Engelbert said. 

The WNBA commissioner said Griner’s physical and mental well-being will be evaluated over the next day or so, and then the league is prepared to assist Griner “and will be there for her, whatever she needs, from a mental perspective.” 

“We all want to go fly to her. We all want to go talk with her. The players are very anxious to reconnect, especially the players on her team and USA Basketball, as well,” she said. 

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Brittney Griner gets out of a plane after landing at the JBSA-Kelly Field Annex runway on December 9, 2022 in San Antonio.

SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images


Engelbert said she was grateful to the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs who worked “tirelessly” to help secure Griner’s freedom in a one-for-one prisoner swap for Viktor Bout.

“They would tell me, ‘We’re all Brittney, all the time, full-court press,’ every basketball analogy. But they really worked hard on getting her home,” Engelbert said.

Engelbert and Griner last spoke when the two exchanged letters while Griner was being held in a Moscow detainment center. 

“We wrote her about every six weeks because we were in season. The players were missing her so much. The players were writing her inspiring letter back, short letter, but inspiring around her gratitude for everything she knew we were doing and I was doing and … she really wanted to get home,” Engelbert said. 

Griner was detained at a Russian airport in February and later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the discovery of cannabis-derived oil cartridges in her luggage. She was playing overseas during the off-season to help supplement her salary. 

Engelbert said the WNBA is now in a “full-out transformation of the league economics,” and “trying to chip away at an economic model” that includes tripling top-player pay.  

“So, we’re finding opportunities, internships, other things to make sure that the players can make some money in the off-season, in addition to driving higher pay during our season,” said Engelbert. 

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