Brittney Griner Taking a Break From the Phoenix Mercury to Focus on Mental Health

On Saturday (July 29), the Phoenix Mercury announced that their star player, Brittney Griner, won’t be traveling with the team for their upcoming two-game road trip in an effort to focus on her mental health. The team plays the Chicago Sky on Sunday and the Indiana Fever on Tuesday, but she won’t be there.

“The Mercury fully support Brittney and we will continue to work together on a timeline for her return,” the team said in a statement, according to ESPN. The mental health break comes roughly five months after the team announced her return to the WNBA following a 10-month detainment in Russia on drug charges.

Griner spent 294 days in detainment after being sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison in August – stemming from an arrest at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in February 2022. She was freed on December 9 after being involved in a prisoner exchange between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin

One week later, she announced that she fully intended to return to basketball in her first public comments since returning home. A new one-year contract came in February, which officially tied her to the team for the 2023 season. She officially made her return on May 19 in a game against the Los Angeles Sparks. 

While she has been overwhelmed by the amount of love and support being thrown her way, there have been times when she’s tested by critics – including a scary incident on June 10. She was making her way through an airport when she was approached and harassed by Alex Stein – a YouTube personality. 

Stein was seen in a video – which he recorded himself – questioning Brittney Griner about her time in Russia and even asking her if she ‘had sex with Vladimir Putin’ before being freed. As the situation escalated, the man was tackled and law enforcement got involved. Luckily, no one was injured or harmed.

“I think we should have already had the option to use a different airline, a more private airline, charter flights,” Griner said on June 26. “It’s a shame that it had to get to rock bottom, because I feel like waiting for something to happen and then making a change … you don’t know what that something’s gonna be.”

How is Brittney Griner Doing This Season?

Brittney Griner made her return to the regular season on May 19 after missing the entire 2022 season while in Russian detainment – it was a moment the entire WNBA had been waiting for. Over the next two months, she quickly returned to form and reminded everyone why she’s a former All-Star and champion.

So far this season, she has played in 20 of the team’s 23 games. While the team has been struggling most of the season, Griner has been outstanding – averaging 18.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game in 28.0 minutes per game. She was named an All-Star starter last month.

Between May 19 and July 9, Griner had at least 20 points in 9 of her last 15 games and at least 15 points in 12 of her last 15 games. Unfortunately, the past five games haven’t been as good for the superstar – she has only amassed 15 points in one game during that stretch and is averaging just 13.0 per game. 

It’s unclear if her mental health has impacted her game, but she made it clear that she needs to take some time for herself and that’s something we have to respect. One thing’s for certain – her loyal fanbase is going to stand by her through thick and thin and she has the support of millions around the world.

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