WNBA stars, Megan Rapinoe call for Brittney Griner’s freedom at ESPYs

(Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The WNBA was recognized as the Sports Humanitarian League of the Year by the ESPYs on Wednesday for the “collective commitment of its players, coaches and franchises to fighting inequality and injustice all over the world.”

Hanging over the ceremony, though, was the absence of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russian since February on charges of drug possession. WNBA players Skylar Diggins-Smith and Nneka Ogwumike joined ESPYs host and NBA star Steph Curry on stage to advocate for Griner’s release.

Griner’s trial in Russia began two weeks ago. She pleaded guilty to the charges but said she had no intention of criminal activity, and the United States has categorized her as “wrongfully detained.” The Phoenix Mercury center faces up to 10 years in prison.

“It’s been 153 nights now that BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home, away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,” Diggins-Smith said. “All throughout that time, we’ve kept her in our thoughts and in our hearts even though we know that ain’t nearly enough to bring her home, y’all.”

Curry wore a Griner Mercury jersey as the trio stood on stage.

“As we hope for the best, we urge the entire global sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf,” he said. “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.

“We cannot stop fighting for her. We cannot stop believing for her. We will not stop hoping for the day we can welcome her home safely. We are B.G.”

Other athletes joined in on the calls for Griner’s freedom throughout the night.

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe called on athletes to do more to put pressure on those responsible for ensuring Griner’s release as she accepted her award for Best Play.

“B.G. deserves to be free,” said Rapinoe. “She is being held as a political prisoner, obviously.

“Every time we say it in interviews, it puts pressure on everybody. It puts pressure on the administration, it puts pressure on Russia, it puts pressure on Putin, it puts pressure on everyone, and it lets BG know also above everything that we love her and that we miss her and that we’re thinking about her all the time.”

Before recognizing the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award honorees, King also advocated for Griner’s release.

“First, bring BG home. Gotta do that,” the tennis great said.