Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner experienced the power of advocacy firsthand while detained in Russia. Now that she's back in the United States, Griner is urging fans to continue to push for the release of Paul Whelan and other Americans who are wrongfully detained.
Griner posted a handwritten letter on Instagram on Wednesday thanking fans for their support during her detainment. Griner also urged fans to write to Whelan and continue to fight for the release of other Americans.
Her full note read:
"Thanks to the efforts of many, including you, I am home after 10 months. You took time to show me you cared and I want to personally take the time to write to you and say that your effort mattered. Your letters helped me to not lose hope during a time when I was full of regret and vulnerable in ways I could have never imagined. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Because of you I never lost hope.
"Your letters were also bigger than uplifting me. They showed me the power of collective hands. Together, we can do hard things. I'm proof of that. My family is whole and now, thanks to you, we are fortunate to get to spend the holidays together. However, there remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained.
"Those families stood alongside you and all who supported the WeAreBG campaign to bring me home and it's our turn to support them. I hope you'll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.
"Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. I hope your holiday season is full of joy and love.
"Sincerely, Brittney Griner."
The letter contains an address so Griner's fans can send mail to Whelan.
The United States attempted to include Whelan, a retired marine currently detained in Russia on espionage charges, in offers to release Griner. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States sent offers to Russia that involved both Griner and Whelan.
Th U.S. offered to free arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is nicknamed the "Merchant of Death" and was jailed in the United States. Russia eventually agreed to the swap, but only for Griner. The two were exchanged Dec. 8.
Following the swap, U.S. President Joe Biden received criticism from the DEA agent who put Bout behind bars. Tom Pasquarello, who was part of a sting operation to catch Bout, wondered why the United States wasn't able to get two citizens in exchange for Bout, whom Pasquarello called "the world’s most notorious weapons trafficker."
Whelan's family spoke after Griner was returned to the U.S. and said Biden "made the right decision." The family was also "devastated" that Whelan remained detained in Russia.
Following her release, Griner hopes to keep the focus on getting Whelan home. Days after Griner came home, Biden reportedly met with Whelan's family to discuss "next steps" to get Whelan back to the U.S.