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WNBA star Brittney Griner has a fellow superstar athlete in her corner as she fights to return home to the United States.
Boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. is offering up his connections in Russia to help the American athlete after she was arrested at an airport near Moscow in February on charges of possession and transportation of cannabis – and she’s been detained there ever since.
Jones, considered by many to be one of the greatest boxers of all time with an illustrious career spanning nearly 30 years, became aware of Griner’s predicament and decided he might be able to help.
“First, she’s an athlete. I have ties with Russia because of my athleticism and my athletic career,” Jones told Fox News Digital. “It’s nothing political. It’s all about sports.”
Jones explained that back in the height of his boxing career, there were only two or three TV channels in Russia – and one of those channels was boxing. He said boxing became a very popular sport in the country as a result, and he was asked to train boxers to “help them up their game.”
Jones, 53, is a dual U.S. and Russian citizen. He was operating a gym in Moscow where he trained young boxers before Russia’s war with Ukraine forced him to shutter his operation. He hopes to someday return to continue his work with the aspiring fighters.
“If my athlete affiliations can help rectify the situation – why wouldn’t I try?” he said of Griner’s situation.
“So, I thought about it for a little while and one night I was sleeping and it hit me – what if it was my daughter stuck in a foreign country?” Jones continued. “They don’t speak no English and she don’t speak the language that they speak. It’s bad enough being incarcerated but what if you incarcerated in a foreign land where they don’t speak your language? You know how bad that is? So, that thought alone terrified me.”
Jones said he reached out to his lawyer to get in contact with the White House. He also connected with a friend who knows people well-connected in Russian politics.
Jones said his contact was able to reach authorities in Russia who expressed willingness to conduct a prisoner swap with the U.S. Jones said the process was slow moving and has since stalled. He’s hoping to continue to help facilitate future communication or negotiations as much as he’s able.
Russian news media has repeatedly suggested that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, otherwise known as “The Merchant of Death.” Bout is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
But U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken would not disclose U.S. plans to bring Griner home when asked if a swap was being considered.
Jones is still hopeful that Griner will be able to return home safely.
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I don’t do all that. But if I can get her home, and they say they’re willing to do a prisoner swap and somebody here is willing to do that – then let’s make it happen.”
He continued, “I would feel bad sitting there comfortable at night knowing she’s in that country in prison and I have citizenship in that country and I’m not trying to do nothing to help. That would be bad on my part.”
Jones said he has been unable to reach Griner or her family, but he’s open and willing to communicate should they reach out.
“This is what I do. God blessed me with boxing, so I’m trying to pass my blessing down to other people because that’s what God gave me,” Jones said.
The Mercury center’s arrest happened less than a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. Griner, an Olympic gold medalist, had been playing overseas during the league’s offseason to make money. She’s been playing basketball in Russia for the past seven years.
The U.S. State Department classified Griner as wrongfully detained in May. She appeared in court Monday for a preliminary hearing. The court ordered her detention to be extended for six months. She faces up to 10 years in prison if she’s convicted. Her trial is set to begin on Friday.
When asked if he had a message to share with Griner, Jones simply said: “Keep God first in everything you do and things will work out.”