Rapinoe, King urge freedom for Brittney Griner at The ESPYS – The Denver Post

By BETH HARRIS

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Soccer player Megan Rapinoe admonished her fellow athletes for not doing enough to speak out and encouraged them to support jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner on ESPYS Wednesday night.

Griner was arrested in Russia in February after customs officers said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage. If convicted of drug trafficking, she faces up to ten years in prison.

“For me, the most striking thing is that BG is not here. BG deserves to be free, she’s obviously being held as a political prisoner,” Rapinoe said while accepting a best game trophy at the show, which honors the best athletes and moments in sports over the past year.

“For example, what are we doing here dressed like we are when our sister is imprisoned abroad? We haven’t done enough, none of us. We can do more, we can support them more and just let them know we love them so much.”

“First bring BG home. I have to do this,” said tennis great Billie Jean King.

Griner has pleaded guilty in court, admitting to possessing the canisters but saying she had no criminal intent.

Rapinoe urged her competitors to keep Griner’s face and name on social media.

“Every time we say that in interviews, it puts pressure on everyone,” she said. “It’s putting pressure on the government, it’s putting pressure on Russia, it’s putting pressure on Putin, it’s putting pressure on everyone and most of all it’s letting BG know that we love them and that we miss them and that we do they think of her all the time.”

NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry hosted the show and joined WNBA players Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith to raise awareness of Griner’s plight.

“It has now been 153 nights since BG was unjustly detained thousands of miles from home, away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,” Diggins-Smith said. “Throughout this time we’ve kept her on our minds and in our hearts, although we know that’s not nearly enough to bring her home, y’all.”

Wearing her Phoenix Mercury jersey under his tracksuit, Curry noted the efforts that went into freeing Griner.

“But while we hope for the best, we urge the entire global sports community to continue standing up for them,” he said. “She is one of us, the team of athletes in this room and around the world tonight. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflicts.”

They were applauded by Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, who was in the audience at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.

Curry also picked up a trophy for best record performance after setting the mark for most 3-pointers in league history. He also shared the Best Team award with NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.

Two-time Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani was named the top athlete in a men’s sport.

“It’s an honor to be in the same category as all of you. You are the best at what you do,” the Japanese player said via video in English. “Have everything wonderful and enjoy your after parties.”

Olympic swimming champion Katie Ledecky has been recognized as the best athlete in women’s sports.

Ledecky won two golds and two silvers at the Tokyo Games last year, earning her 10 Olympic medals in her career. She received her trophy from Maybelle Blair, the 95-year-old who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

“I represent one of the few sports that’s also a really important life skill, so I want to encourage all the parents here, all the spectators, to make sure your kids learn to swim,” Ledecky said. “Our planet is 70% water, so it’s very important.”

Former Heavyweight Champion Vitali Klitschko was honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for impacting the world beyond sport. Klitschko, mayor of embattled Kiev in Ukraine since 2014, was not present. He appeared in a pre-recorded video.

King led a tribute to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the federal legislation that bans sex discrimination in government-funded schools.

She was joined by Lisa Leslie, Brandi Chastain, Chloe Kim, Allyson Felix, Aly Raisman and Rapinoe, among others. They spoke against the backdrop of black-and-white photos showing female athletes in action, on the field or on the street, fighting for gender equality. Her comments were interspersed with country singer Mickey Guyton performing her songs “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” and “Remember her name”.

The ESPYS were criticized by South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley for not inviting consensus player of the year Aliyah Boston to the show. Boston had hoped to attend and was disappointed not to have been asked. She received a last minute invitation but declined it.

ESPN said COVID-19 concerns and a smaller venue forced organizers to prioritize who was invited to the show. Boston was nominated in a non-televised category handed out the night before. She lost to Oklahoma softball star Jocelyn Alo, who attended the Title IX Tribute.

ESPN collegiate basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. The 83-year-old has undergone multiple melanoma surgeries and six months of chemotherapy for lymphoma in the past year. In March he said he was cancer free.

Vitale dismissed messages on the teleprompter asking him to finish his remarks, which stretched to 20 minutes.

“I’ll be ready in about three minutes,” he said hoarsely. “Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer. We have to do it because it doesn’t discriminate. It comes eventually.”

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