WNBA star Brittney Griner was released from a Russian prison after a prisoner swap was announced Thursday, prompting ESPN's Stephen A. Smith to share his opinion on the matter.
Smith urged American citizens to learn from Griner's unfortunate situation and said travelers should make sure they have an understanding of the laws of the country they are preparing to enter.
“One of the things we need to remember moving forward, particularly when you’re traveling internationally, just know everything you can,” Smith said.
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Griner was arrested in February on drug smuggling charges after she brought vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis through a Moscow airport.
The U.S. government traded an international arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for Griner’s release.
“There’s several things to peel from it. The first thing is gratitude. Gratitude that she’s coming home healthy, safe, sound. Is gonna be in the arms of loved ones, her family, her basketball community,” Smith said on “First Take” when asked to weigh in.
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Smith also acknowledged that other American citizens who remain wrongfully imprisoned in Russia, like former Marine Paul Whelan, should not be forgotten.
“I saw his brother David Whelan on CNN this morning,” Smith added. “Class exemplified, recognizing the importance and relief that we should all feel the fact that Brittney Griner has been released. Nevertheless, still hoping and praying that his brother, who’s been detained in Russia for the last four years, will ultimately get released.”
Shortly after the news of Griner's release broke, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason slammed the U.S. government after he learned Whelan was not included in the prisonor swap.
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“I’m telling you, more people feel that way than don’t,” Esiason said on the “Boomer & Gio” show. “I can tell you that right now. I know that we’re all happy that Brittney’s home, like we said earlier on. But when you think about the magnitude of what we traded to get back a WNBA professional athlete and left a Marine sitting there whose family has been trying for years to get him out of there with nothing, nothing from the U.S. government.”
Smith added he was grateful to live in America.
“It just reminds me that, you know what, America, regardless of all its troubles, there ain’t too many places you'd rather be than the United States of America,” Smith said.
The broadcaster also noted that Americans should proceed with caution whenever they are traveling internationally.
“Do your homework because you have a lot of people who have resentment, and you have a lot of people who have ulterior motives and will use any means necessary to get to what they want.”
In August, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty and explaining she had been prescribed cannabis for her pain and inadvertently placed it in her luggage. Her sentence was upheld in October, and she was later transferred to a penal colony.
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Paul Whelan has been jailed on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless.
“So thank God she’s coming home safe and sound, and I hope Paul Whelan is next,” Smith said, “along with various others who are being wrongfully detained.”