As she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor in the United States – Megan Rapinoe paid tribute to detained WNBA star Brittney Griner, wearing a cream blazer with the initials ‘BG’ and a bunch of flowers embroidered onto the lapel.
“The most important part of the day…BG we love you,” Rapinoe said in an Instagram story alongside a close-up picture of the embroidery detail.
Griner has been held in Russia since February on accusations of drug smuggling and is officially classified as “wrongfully detained,” a US State Department official told CNN in May.
On Thursday, the same day as Rapinoe received the Medal of Freedom, Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court.
Supporters of the Phoenix Mercury star have called for her release over fears she is being used as a political pawn amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a sentiment echoed by Rapinoe.
“BG is a being used as a political pawn and we need to bring her hom [sic] immediately,” she wrote on an Instagram story.
“This plea doesn’t change that @potus needs to and is working hard to get her home. From what I understand she had to plea to keep the process of getting her home asap in motion. BG we are with you.”
Some have speculated Griner could be released and returned to the US in a prisoner swap, as was Trevor Reed, an American veteran detained in Russia for three years before his release in April. There is no indication such a swap is imminent in Griner’s case.
Still, before any potential prisoner swap, it was expected Griner would have to be convicted and also admit fault, a senior US official told CNN. Reed had to sign a document saying he was guilty – something he had resisted for almost the entirety of his detention – just days before he was let out, the official said.
“It is part of the show and the document has no legal force or effect in the US. It is effectively meaningless,” said Reed family spokesperson Jonathan Franks.
Rapinoe’s role in pushing for equality
Rapinoe received the Medal of Freedom alongside 16 other recipients, including fellow Olympic athlete Simone Biles.
In a speech introducing the star soccer player, President Joe Biden praised Rapinoe’s role in securing equal pay for the women’s team and her advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights.
“I am humbled and truly honored to be chosen for this award by President Biden and feel as inspired and motivated as ever to continue this long history of fighting for the freedoms of all people,” Rapinoe said in a statement.
“To quote Emma Lazarus, ‘Until we are all free, we are none of us free.’”
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Karen Smith and Dakin Andone contributed reporting.