Stephen A. Smith

As WNBA star Brittney Griner gets released from Russian prison, the correction of injustice is celebrated. But Stephen A. Smith won’t forget about Paul Whelan.

“Very, very happy for Brittney Griner,” Smith said at the start of Thursday morning’s First Take. “Anybody associated with the game of basketball knows what Brittney Griner has meant to the game. And as an American citizen, we’re happy to see her home. Obviously, we’d be remiss in neglecting to mention the importance of Paul Whelan ultimately coming home.”

“I saw his brother David Whelan on CNN this morning,” Smith continued. “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.”

Griner had been in Russian prison since February, when she was detained at a Moscow airport on drug smuggling charges for carrying vape cartridges with CBD oil. Thursday morning, Griner was released in a prisoner exchange for notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “merchant of death.”

The White House was also pushing for falsely imprisoned former United States Marine Paul Whelan to be included in the deal for Bout, but ultimately conceded with Russia to a one-for-one swap.

“As the Biden Administration, Joe Biden himself, pointed out, there’s still work to be done,” Smith said. “And Brittney Griner’s going to play a pivotal role in trying to assist in that regard.”

In August, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison. Since Griner’s arrest, prominent entertainers and athletes had been actively advocating for her release, which was ultimately secured by the White House Thursday morning. Whelan has been detained in Russia since 2018 on an espionage conviction, a verdict the U.S. has deemed to be false.

[First Take]

About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to