Leading US sports stars showed their support during Wednesday night’s ESPY award for Olympic champion Brittney Griner, who is being held in Russia on drug charges.
NBA star Stephen Curry hosted the awards show, often referred to as the sports world’s Emmy. Griner was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on charges he tried to bring cannabis oil into Russia. He faces up to 10 years in prison. The US government considers the 31-year-old wrongfully detained, and some believe his arrest was politically motivated during a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the US.
Curry noted an attempt to bring Griner home, but said more needed to be done.
“But as we wish him the best, we urge the entire global sports community to continue to remain passionate about his name,” he said. “[Griner] is one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and around the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict.”
US soccer star Megan Rapinoe accepts the award for best game and uses her speech to draw attention to Griner’s imprisonment.
“I think honestly what we’ve seen tonight is the importance of sport and how much we can bring and how much we can do in the world with our collective strength,” Rapinoe said. “Every time we say his name, it puts pressure on everyone – puts pressure on the government, puts pressure on Russia. The most striking thing is that BG is not here. BG deserves to be free. We can support him even more and tell him we love him so much.”
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, was in the audience and applauded at the mention of the player’s ordeal. Griner was in Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, but he was also a star in the WNBA for the Phoenix Mercury. His WNBA co-star Skylar Diggins-Smith also mentioned Griner on the show.
“It’s been 153 nights now BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home, away from his family, away from his friends, away from his team,” Diggins-Smith said. “Throughout that time, we kept him in our minds and hearts even though we knew it wasn’t enough to bring him home, all of you.”
Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession and smuggling charges in his trial earlier this month but said there was “no intent. I don’t want to break the law.”
Griner’s legal team in Russia said the guilty plea was “his decision”, adding: “Given the nature of the case, the insignificant amount of substance and personality of BG and his history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the defense will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor. and there will be no severe punishment.”
There is speculation that Griner could be part of a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving time in the US for conspiracy to kill US citizens and provide aid to terrorist organizations.
‘He’s one of us’: Curry and Rapinoe urge action on Griner’s detention on ESPY | Brittney Griner
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