Rapinoe lectures sports stars on ‘pressuring Putin’
The US women’s soccer player seized her chance on stage at awards ceremony the ESPYS
Megan Rapinoe claims sport has the “collective power” to put pressure on Russia and President Vladimir Putin to free US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who is on trial in Russia for drugs smuggling.
Speaking at the ESPYS ceremony which honored sporting talent on Wednesday night, soccer player-turned-social justice warrior Rapinoe urged those present to do more to help Griner.
Griner has been detained in Russia since February 17 after banned hashish oil vape cartridges were found in her luggage at an airport just outside Moscow.
“I think honestly what we’ve witnessed tonight is the importance of sport and how much we can bring and how much we can get done in the world with our collective power,” Rapinoe told the audience.
“We love her. … We miss her. … We’re doing every single thing we can to get her out.”
—Megan Rapinoe took a moment to acknowledge Brittney Griner at the ESPYS pic.twitter.com/5JDFj74bLS
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 21, 2022
“The most striking thing for me is that BG [Brittney Griner] isn’t here… BG deserves to be free, she’s being held as a political prisoner, obviously.
“I don’t think I’m getting political, but I do love to get political. We’re probably not going to get her out tonight, and everyone should enjoy the night, and we should all celebrate [the occasion].
“But tomorrow and the next day, and the next week, every time we see BG’s face, every time we say her name, it puts pressure on everyone – it puts pressure on the administration, it puts pressure on Russia, it puts pressure on Putin.
“It also lets BG know that we lover her, we miss her, and that we’re doing every single thing we can to get her out,” added Rapinoe.
Men’s basketball star Steph Curry, who was co-hosting, also used the occasion at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to call for Griner’s release.
“As we hope for the best, we urge the entire global sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf,” said the four-time NBA champion.
“She’s one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and all over the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict.”
Griner’s trial is set to resume at Khimki City Court just outside the Russian capital later this month.
The 31-year-old has already pleaded guilty but said the hashish oil cartridges ended up in her luggage by accident when she was in a rush to pack.
Griner was traveling to Russian to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason in her homeland, which is something she has done since 2015.
If convicted, she could face up to ten years in a Russian prison.
US officials have formally classified Griner as “wrongfully detained,” with claims that Russia is using her as a political pawn for a potential prisoner swap further down the line.
Unconfirmed reports have cited Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US prison on allegations of arms dealing, as a potential trade.
The Kremlin and Russian Foreign Ministry officials have dismissed those claims, arguing that Griner must face Russian law like anyone else and should not be granted preferential treatment simply because she is a foreigner.
“We urge the US authorities not to exploit this sensitive matter affecting the fates of certain individuals, and we advise them to abandon futile attempts to pressure us,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier this month.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has been critical of the Biden Administration, saying she has a lack of faith in their efforts to secure the release of the two-time Olympic champion.