U.S. Rep. Colin Allred says he's working with State Department to secure release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russia

A U.S. congressman who played football at Baylor is among those concerned about the welfare of Brittney Griner, who is being held in Russia on drug charges.

Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) spoke Wednesday about Griner, who played for Baylor's women's basketball team from 2009 to 2013 and has been with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury for nine seasons.

Allred said Griner, who also played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, was detained in Russia on Feb. 17.

"My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we're working with them to see what is the best way forward," said Allred, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it's also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it's really unusual that we've not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.

"The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don't have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now. But she's been held for three weeks now, and that's extremely concerning."

Allred referenced two other cases of Americans in recent years who have been imprisoned in Russia. Trevor Reed was arrested in 2019 after Russian authorities say he resisted arrest and attacked officers. Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges. Both men are former Marines and have disputed the charges against them. Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison and Whelan 16.

"So this is not the first time in recent years that an American has been detained and then held either without reason or without a sufficient kind of explanation," Allred said. "What's obviously different here is that Brittney is an extremely high-profile athlete, and it's happening during the course of a Russian-begun war in Ukraine, in which we are deeply opposed to what they're doing."

While Allred acknowledged the difficulties due to strained relations with Russia, he also said he didn't want to connect Griner's individual situation in any way to the larger overall conflict involving Ukraine.

"This would normally be run through our embassy or consular services in the country," he said. "It's also true that we're drawing down some of our embassy personnel in Moscow and the State Department has asked all Americans in Russian to leave. But I don't think that's going to impact the ability for them to advocate on her behalf."

Allred played football at Baylor from 2001 to 2005 and was in the NFL for four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Griner led Baylor to the 2012 NCAA championship and was the top pick in the 2013 WNBA draft. She has won gold medals with the United States in two Olympics and two FIBA World Cups.

"Of course for me, there is a Baylor connection," Allred said. "And also being on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and having recently visited Ukraine and being intimately involved with our response to the Russian aggression there. But also the fact that Brittney is a high-profile LGBTQ advocate and icon in many ways.

"I'm sure her lawyer in Russia is working through the process. But every day for anyone being held, particularly being held overseas, is a lifetime. I recognize that for her friends and family, this must be incredibly difficult time. And for her, I'm sure the uncertainty about what's happening is probably just terrible. And so, hopefully, whatever happens, we can get this moving quickly and get her out."