The power of love: Why Cherelle Griner is the biggest hero in Brittney Griner's release

There's a singular beautiful moment, which followed so many ugly, terrifying moments in the wrongful detention of Olympian and WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia. Griner's wife, Cherelle, who tirelessly and heroically worked to free Brittney, was in the Oval Office on Thursday, sitting to the left of President Joe Biden, smiling and speaking on the phone to Brittney, who had been freed from a penal colony.

To Cherelle's left was Vice President Kamala Harris, and a few feet away was Antony Blinken, the secretary of state. It was a fitting moment for Cherelle, seated at the center of power, after using everything in her power to free her wife.

This scene was better than other moments we've witnessed with Brittney, which usually involved her being photographed in cages. Now she's free in large part because of Cherelle.

Cherelle Griner with President Joe Biden following the release of Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony.
Cherelle Griner with President Joe Biden following the release of Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony.

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"Today my family is whole," she said at a news conference, flanked by Biden and Harris. "But as you all are aware, there are so many other families who are not whole. BG is not here to say this, but I will gladly speak on her behalf. BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul (Whelan), whose family is in our hearts today. ... As we celebrate BG being home we do understand that there are still people out here who are enduring what I endured the last nine months of missing, tremendously, their loved ones."

Even as her wife comes home, Cherelle was thinking about others.

There are several heroes in this story but none bigger than Cherelle. Her relentlessness is why Griner was released. Her refusal to give up. Her pairing with other strong women, most of them strong Black women, especially from the WNBA, is why she's free.

She attended rallies for Brittney. She kept the media on its toes. When the public's attention spans wavered, she was there to remind us. She never let us forget the racism and homophobia Brittney was facing in Russia.

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In many ways, this is a story about pure love, and fighting for your partner, but it's also about persistence, and Cherelle making sure no one ever forgot about Brittney.

Cherelle's love and dedication was stronger than Russian hate. That love propelled diplomats into action. It caused a president to take notice.

In May, she pleaded with Biden during an interview on "Good Morning America," asking him to do more.

“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn," she said on the show. “So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”

In that interview, Cherelle said she spoke with Blinken, but that wasn't enough.

“I was grateful for the call; you say she’s top priority, but I wanna see it. And I feel like to see it would be me seeing BG on U.S. soil,” she said. “At this point I don’t even know who I’m getting back when she comes back.”

Then, several months later, in July, Biden spoke by phone with Cherelle and read her a letter that he would eventually send to Brittney.

"The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible," the White House said in a statement. "He also read her a draft of the letter the president is sending to Brittney Griner today."

That happened because of Cherelle constantly pushing the Biden administration.

Also in July, Cherelle spoke at a rally in Phoenix, her speech serving as another powerful moment.

“I remember asking her once, ‘Well, how do you play so well when you're hurting and exhausted like that?’" Cherelle said. “She told me: ‘Oh, that me? That me just goes, no matter what or how I feel, I get the job done.’

“We used to differ there. As the days continue to increase that my wife is wrongfully detained in Russia, I've adapted her mindset in my efforts to get her home by going no matter what or how I feel. Truthfully, I can't rest as her humanity is being stripped from her. I can't rest as her safety is in question. I honestly can't rest until she's home.”

Now Brittney is home, and she is because Cherelle didn't rest. She moved many of us to not forget her wife, and that included moving the president of the United States.

Love can do that.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner's wife, is hero of WNBA star's return