Roy Jones Jr. is willing to sacrifice his own freedom for the safe return of another U.S. athlete.
The Hall-of-Fame inducted former four-division champion has joined a growing list of those who are advocating for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been held in a Russian prison since February. Griner was arrested in Moscow on February 17 after Russia customs police alleged to have found vape cartridges with hash oil in her luggage and remains imprisoned despite repeated efforts by the U.S. government to bring her home.
Jones believes his dual citizenship in the U.S. and Russia—the latter obtained in 2015—can help play a role and righting the injustice.
“Right now, everyone’s in an uproar over the same thing I’ve been in an uproar about and that’s Britney Griner,” Jones recently revealed in an interview with Best Women’s Boxing Show PERIOD (BWBSP)podcast co-hosts Cynthia Conte and Jeandra LeBeauf. “I have a friend in Miami and tried to tell the United States [government]… there’s a thing they want to do is make a [prisoner] swap. They’re willing to make a swap for Brittney Griner if the United States government will get involved. I have people in this country who spoke to her lawyers so that they can get her home. I hope that they pay attention.
“I’m willing to do whatever I got to do, even if I got to put my life on the line and go over there myself, and try to swap and go get here, I’m willing to go do that.”
Griner is due to stand trial—which was delayed in mid-May—for the aforementioned charges for which she could serve a maximum of ten years in prison.
The circumstances surrounding Griner’s detention garnered international attention, with most speaking out against the act. The 6’9” Griner—a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and the first pick of the 2013 WNBA Draft—has been with the Phoenix Mercury her entire career, while also playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014. There exists the belief that Griner has become a political prisoner as Russia’s response to international sanctions placed against the nation since its invasion of and ongoing war with Ukraine.
Forbes magazine reported in May of talks between the Biden administration and the Russian government to swap Griner for Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms smuggler and dealer. Bout has been held in the U.S. Penitentiary, Marion federal prison since June 2012 as part of a 25-year sentence.
The rumored negotiations never involved beyond that point, prompting others to take a stance against Griner’s wrongful imprisonment. The matter was a common theme during Saturday’s induction ceremony for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Jones took time from his busy schedule ahead of his own Hall of Fame induction on Sunday to speak out against the injustice.
“A lot of people politicize people for what they do,” noted Jones. “I catch a lot of criticism for things I’ve done in the past. I love boxing and sports. I became a dual citizen in the U.S. and in Russia because of my boxing accolades and they love boxing over there. That’s why it’s good to have some kind of sports relationship with people. It goes beyond the political stuff. My sports relationship (with the Russian government), they are willing to at least tell me what to do in order to get her home.”
At least one boxing luminary isn’t on board with Jones’ cooperation with the Russian government.
Former heavyweight champion and fellow inductee Wladimir Klitschko was unable to attend this weekend’s ceremony in Canastota, New York, due to his intimate involvement in the ongoing Russo-Ukraine War. Klitschko has joined the cause alongside older brother Vitali—a Hall of Fame former two-time titlist and current mayor of Kiev—and carries a significantly different viewpoint of anyone’s support of the enemy nation, no matter the capacity.
“I am super happy to be able to address all of you,” Klitschko said in a video statement to the Hall of Fame attendees before shifting his attention to Jones. “Well, almost all of you. There is one person for whom I have a real question. One person broke Ukrainian law by going to the occupied peninsula of Crimea through Russian territory. That person is Roy Jones.
“So, Roy, whose side are you on? On the side of the aggressor, or on the side of the defender of its right to live. I respect you as a fighter, but I really question your moral compass.”
The statement was made after Jones’ BWBSP podcast interview, though his own take on the motive to assist Griner speaks to his differing mindset from the politically driven Klitschko.
“I hope that the United States will back me on it and make something happen to get her home. I’m trying my best just because—not my political, I don’t do hot takes—but because of my sports awareness around the world. Because of my personality as a sportsman, they’re willing to talk to me about another sportsperson.”
The full interview is expected to be released Tuesday on the BWBSP YouTube channel.
Jones retired from the sport in 2018, ending a 29-year pro career that began and concluded in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida. In between came title wins at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, along with a ten-year stay from 1994-2004 at or near the top of the mythical pound-for-pound rankings.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox