Reverend Al Sharpton boosts Brittney Griner return effort amid WNBA All-Star festivities: 'Bring Brittney home'

The National Association of Women’s Basketball Players anchors its collective action in the 144 players represented by the union. But what happens when all 144 are missing one?

Nearly five months after her arrest in Russia, Brittney Griner’s absence leaves a huge void in all aspects of this WNBA season. This weekend’s Chicago All-Star Game was the latest event marked by the international fight for Griner’s return to the US.

At a somber news conference Friday to kick off All-Star weekend, the Rev. Al Sharpton joined Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and WNBPA leaders Nneka Ogwumike, Sue Bird and Terri Jackson to highlight the qualities that they believe make Griner’s return to the US essential: his humanity. , courage and identity as an American.

“Bring Brittney home,” Sharpton said. He takes her home to his wife. We’ll be with her until you do. … We know the tension between nations. We know there is a conflict going on. But we also know there has to be a place where conflict stops and where politics and international rivalries stop and let’s say some people operate above that and because they have, we will operate on a humanitarian level.”

The event marked a sharp change in the tone set by Griner’s family and the WNBPA as Griner approaches five months in detention.

Cherelle said she felt zero trust in the US government just weeks ago after the State Department failed in a coordinated phone call with the Russian government. But the group trusted the Biden administration on Friday.

“I want to make it very clear that our next step as supporters of (Brittney Griner) is to make sure the administration understands that they have our full support and are doing whatever it takes to bring her home just like any other wrongfully detained American.” Cherelle Griner said.

Cherelle, who was dressed in black in mourning, the only hint of color coming from the orange “We’re BG” on her blouse, reflected new hope in the administration’s ability to maneuver Griner’s return from Russia.

Griner, 31, sent a handwritten letter to Biden from her cell this week, begging the president not to forget her amid yet another political turmoil in the US. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have since met with Cherelle. and wrote Griner a letter in return. .

“(President Biden) understood and sees her as a person,” Cherelle said. “He hasn’t forgotten her, which was her biggest cry in her letter. So I am grateful. And I’m grateful that the administration, which was the first one BG voted for, took the time to look at her as a person to see what she’s going through and speak to me directly and let me know that they’re exhausting every effort to bring her home. .

In a call to overlook politics and party lines, Sharpton and the WNBPA representatives emphasized Griner’s common humanity.

Sharpton painted a picture of anguish, depicting Griner being transported to court in vehicles too small for his 6-foot-9 height, unable to speak to his wife or loved ones, and being away from home where people he meets they do not speak English. . Ogwumike and Bird shared memories of Griner as a teammate, friend and loved one to players across the league.

“What America needs to understand is that she is you, too,” Ogwumike said. “She’s the fun aunt. She is the wife who encourages her spouse to prosper. She is the daughter who celebrates her father’s service on day four. She is the girl who was bullied and a role model who now stands up for those kids. She’s kind and she’s all ours. … We are so lucky to know her. If you don’t know her, you have to. She’s tough, she’s kind, and Brittney Griner is American.”

Griner pleaded guilty Thursday in the next step of his trial, likely as a step to facilitate future action by the US government, which is currently scheduled to conclude in August. Sharpton called Griner a “champion” for taking responsibility for this action, adding the hope that the Russian courts will recognize the time he has already served and waive further jail time. But some reports predict that Griner could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Sharpton said he reached out to the Russian Orthodox Church in hopes of traveling to Russia to pray with Griner, but was focused on a higher goal: meeting the WNBA star when he returns safely to American soil.

In the meantime, WNBA players, coaches and fans will continue to highlight Griner’s absence and advocate for his return during All-Star Weekend and the conclusion of the season.

“Brittney Griner is an American hero,” Ogwumike said. “She is ours and she is yours and we must bring her home. She looks like us. she is us. Our 144 have always stood together as sisters and allies. She is part of our DNA as team sports athletes and as women who have often been undervalued and must move together to be seen.”

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