BRITTNEY GRINER, PHOENIX MERCURY PARTNER WITH BRING OUR FAMILIES HOME CAMPAIGN TO CHAMPION SAFE RETURN OF WRONGFUL DETAINEES OVERSEAS
APRIL 27, 2023
On April 27, Brittney Griner walked into Footprint Center and did something she’s done hundreds of times; she sat behind a microphone and fielded questions from the media.
Except this time, it wasn’t after a dominant performance (those will come this summer).
It was her first public remarks since her safe return home late last year.
The Mercury mainstay has played her entire career in the Valley. But before Griner discussed the upcoming season, she utilized the spotlight to announce an impactful partnership between herself, the Mercury and the Bring Our Families Home campaign (BOFH) to raise awareness call, call others to action and support those impacted by wrongful detainment in other nations.
Formed in 2022 by the family members of American hostages and wrongful detainees held overseas, the campaign urges the White House to take immediate and decisive action to bring detainees home and provide resources for detainees’ families.
Addressing the media and public, Griner shared her appreciation for those who kept her story top-of-mind.
“Thank y’all for covering me and all the exposure you gave me, my family to help get me home. That coverage was much needed.”
These actions of many kept Griner’s hope alive.
“”I was aware of the efforts and everything that was going on,” said Griner.”I know people were fighting for me and bringing awareness. That made me more comfortable there, and meant I had hope, which is a hard, dangerous thing to have because when it doesn’t work, it’s so crushing.”
Griner’s wrongful detention brought the attention of the basketball community (specifically women’s basketball, the WNBA and Arizona) to the struggle of wrongful detainees and the families fighting to be reunited with them.
“We learned that, outside personal safety, the biggest fear is being forgotten and we know those currently being held do not automatically have the same public platform or receive the same media attention Brittney’s case did,” Mercury President Vince Kozar said.
In support of Griner, Mercury is pledging resources and its platform to Bring Our Families Home to raise awareness around the plight of wrongful detainees.
Reflecting on her own experience, Griner wants to pay it forward and help other families reunite as she did with hers in December 2022.
“We’re not going to stop fighting and we are not going to stop bringing awareness to everyone that’s left behind right now,” Griner said.
Together, they will tell the stories of wrongfully imprisoned Americans abroad through a campaign that launched with the unveiling of a mural on the west side of Footprint Center, the team’s home arena in downtown Phoenix following Griner’s press conference.
The mural features the face of Griner and more than a dozen detained individuals, some of whom have been held captive for more than a decade. Griner revealed the mural alongside Neda Sharghi, chair of the steering committee of BOFH, who leads the campaign’s vision and works closely with detainees’ families. Sharghi is the sister of Emad Shargi, who is being wrongfully held at the notorious Evin Prison in Iran.
For Sharghi, she’s grateful to partner with Griner and the Phoenix Mercury.
“I think what Brittney has done, what Cherelle [Griner] has done has made it impossible for our government to ignore this issue. It has pushed them to pay attention to us as families and to our loved ones who are being wrongfully detained for no reason other than being Americans,” said Sharghi. “It’s a huge burden off our shoulders because now we feel like someone else is helping. BG’s voice is loud and she is speaking from the heart, she has been through it, she survived and now she wants to help the rest of us.”
Shargi continued, “we are so thankful for Brittney and the Mercury for allowing us to partner with them.”
The 30-foot-wide painting features a QR code that directs to www.BringOurFamiliesHome.org. Later this season, fans will also be able to visit a dedicated hub on PhoenixMercury.com to learn more about each individual and how to get involved in the cause. The hub will continue to be populated throughout the 2023 season with news and updates on the coalition’s efforts.
The Mercury will incorporate in-game PSAs and social media content to keep the names and stories of those detained top-of-mind. The BOFH logo will be affixed to the Mercury’s home court when the team tips off its 2023 season in May, replacing the “BG42” mark near center court that was installed last season.
At every regular season home game, the Mercury will host a letter-writing station at Footprint Center for fans to draft hand-written notes of hope and encouragement to those detained and calls for action to elected officials to bring individuals home.
As the season progresses this summer, BG and the Mercury will host families and friends of wrongful detainees at Mercury games in Phoenix and around the country when the team visits other markets.
“While we can’t everything on our own, we intend to be a part of the solution, using the platform that we have to bring attention to these individuals throughout the 2023 WNBA season and beyond. We are grateful to Neda and Bring Our Families Home for their willingness to partner with us,” Kozar added.
While the concern, grief and pain experienced for 294 days may be over, the work continues to amplify the stories of those abroad. The emotions for the Mercury, just like for its fans and so many worldwide, are those of joyous celebration, deep gratitude, grief for the time lost, and sincere hope for all families still awaiting the return of a loved one.
The fight to bring BG home illustrated the power of the WNBA, its players, platform, and mission.
That power will be on full display when Griner takes the court for the first time this regular season at home on May 21 for the Fry’s Food Stores Welcome Home Opener, a moment that will be more celebratory than the team’s trio of championships.