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Griner’s Guilty Verdict Strengthens Supporters’ Resolve

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Nothing about Thursday’s proceedings in a Russian courthouse, where the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner was being tried on drug smuggling charges, surprised experts familiar with Russia’s legal process. Griner was convicted and sentenced to a penal colony for nine years — just one year shy of the maximum sentence.

Her conviction was thought to be a formality and a prerequisite for a prisoner swap that could lead to her return to the United States.

“I think the negotiations will accelerate now that there’s finality to the alleged court process,” said Jonathan Franks, who has worked with the family of Trevor R. Reed, a former U.S. Marine who was returned to the United States in a prisoner swap with Russia in April. Reed was also sentenced to nine years of imprisonment after he was convicted of assault, a charge his family considered to be spurious and politically motivated.

“One thing Americans need to realize is, we’re dealing with thugs,” Franks said. “The people who take our folks hostage or wrongfully detain them, it’s just state-sponsored kidnapping. They’re thugs. Sometimes, in order to get thugs’ attention, they only understand strength.”

Last week, the U.S. State Department said it had made a “substantial” offer to the Russian government for Griner and Paul N. Whelan, an American who has been detained in Russia since 2018. Whelan was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison. But now that Griner’s trial is over, experts said even more patience would be required from those who support her. After U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken publicly said that the United States had offered Russia a deal, Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters that prisoner swaps were negotiated quietly.

William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Kennan Institute and an expert on Russian law, said: “There’s no incentive for Russia to do any favors for the United States.”

“I am not optimistic that the diplomatic deal will take place any time soon,” he said, pointing to Peskov’s statement and the poor relations between the two countries because of the war in Ukraine.

Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 when Russian customs officials at an airport near Moscow said they had found hashish oil, a cannabis derivative, in a vape pen in her luggage. The U.S. State Department announced in May that it considered Griner to be “wrongfully detained,” which meant her case would be handled by the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. The State Department said it would work to secure her release, no matter how her trial ended.

In both the United States and Russia, Griner’s teammates and coaches have offered their support. Members of her Russian team, UMMC Yekaterinburg, testified on Griner’s behalf during her trial.

In the United States, several W.N.B.A. players who had also played in Russia coordinated a social media campaign on Wednesday, the day before her trial ended.

Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the W.N.B.A. players’ union, posted a photograph on Instagram of herself playing for her Russian team, Dynamo Kursk.

“Like me, she has great memories from her time playing and returned year after year to compete in Russia,” Ogwumike wrote. She added: “I am asking that in honor of all our great experiences competing in Russia and around the world, out of love and humanity, that you show her mercy and understanding. Please be kind to Brittney Griner.”

Although the players’ appeals did not appear to affect the proceedings, they had value in showing solidarity with Griner and her UMMC Yekaterinburg teammates who spoke on her behalf, said Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a Russian historian who has consulted with the players’ union during Griner’s detention.

“Brittney’s Russian teammates and her coach, those who testified on her behalf in Russia really put themselves at risk because Russia just recently passed even more stringent laws about cooperating with foreigners,” St. Julian-Varnon said. She said the W.N.B.A. players’ public statements were “giving them a nod and saying they appreciated what they did.”

St. Julian-Varnon started advising the union shortly after Griner was detained. She said early on she told the players to expect a long process, that they should not expect Griner to be released before her trial and that even if her sentence were light, that would mean at least five years.

Now that Griner has been convicted, St. Julian-Varnon is still urging caution.

“This does not mean she’s going to be involved in a prisoner swap any time soon,” she said. “Just keep that in mind because this is still a process, but it’s the next step in the process. It could be weeks. It could be months. A lot of it depends on Russia.”

Terri Jackson, the executive director of the W.N.B.A. players’ union, said Griner’s conviction would not change how the players support her. For months, they spoke out publicly and made other demonstrations of support, such as wearing T-shirts with Griner’s initials and jersey number, 42.

“Just really feeling sad and feeling sick for Brittney and hoping that she gets home as soon as possible,” said Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, a four-time All-Star who played with Griner in Russia. “Now that the trial is done and the sentencing happened, I know she’s got to be in a very emotional state and just want her to know that we’re still continuing to do whatever we can to get her home.”

When asked if the N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. would change anything about their tactics, Mike Bass, an N.B.A. spokesman, said both leagues would continue to support the State Department, White House “and other allies in and outside government in the effort to get Brittney home as soon as possible.”

The tense relationship between the United States and Russia has not eased in the months since Griner’s detention. She was jailed shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the United States has sent military equipment to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. On Monday, the White House said it would send $550 million in additional arms to Ukraine for the war.

St. Julian-Varnon said that could hamper negotiations for Griner’s release, which was not a problem for Russia. “It only hurts the credibility of the Biden administration,” she said. “There’s no impetus for Russia to do anything immediately.”

That stance most likely will not sit well with Griner’s supporters. Paris Hatcher is the executive director of Black Feminist Future, a social justice organization that created the #BringBrittneyHome hashtag campaign. She said her initial excitement over a possible prisoner swap for Griner dissipated after Thursday’s verdict.

Hatcher said the organization would consider options to keep Griner’s case on the forefront of the minds of politicians.

“Will that mean that we’ll be reaching back out to elected officials that we had been in conversation with about the critical nature of this case?” Hatcher said. “Oftentimes, you just don’t have enough information. Now, you have the information. Whatever was making you hesitate, it’s been six months.”

Hatcher added: “Whatever swap that needs to happen, let it happen. Make it happen.”



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World Cup TV pundit under fire for disparaging Qatari attire

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Former Germany forward Sandro Wagner is under fire for a disparaging remark he made about Qatari men’s traditional attire while commentating for TV during Germany and Spain’s World Cup match on Sunday.

Wagner was commentating on the teams’ 1-1 draw for German broadcaster ZDF when he said in the 79th minute he thought one end of the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor was full of German fans.

“Only then did I realize that they are the Qatari bathrobes,” Wagner said

Wagner was referring to the thaub, the traditional white full-length robes with long sleeves worn by many men in the region.

Wagner’s comments led to furious reactions on social media.

ZDF replied to some of the complaints on Twitter with a short statement: “Sandro Wagner’s comments about the thaub unfortunately occurred during an emotional phase of the game. He’s not permitted (to say that). We’ll talk about it.”

Qatari fans protested against Germany for Mesut Özil’s abuse following the team’s early exit in 2018.
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Wagner previously made eight appearances for Germany and played for Bayern Munich among a host of German clubs.

During the game, Qatari fans protested against the Germany team by covering their mouths while holding pictures of former Germany player Mesut Özil, a target for racist abuse in Germany following the team’s early exit from the World Cup in 2018.

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NFL Power Rankings for Week 13: Chiefs keep rolling

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There is a football adage that the season starts in December. 

Well, the NFL certainly will have a playoff feel to begin the month. 

There are five games this week between teams with winning records. 

That means 10 of the 16 teams above .500 are going head-to-head. 

Let’s make sense of the loaded NFC East with a Giants-Commanders battle. Enjoy an AFC Championship rematch between the Chiefs and Bengals. The storybook of old-faces-in-new-places presents Titans-Eagles (wide receiver A.J. Brown) and Dolphins-49ers (too many to list). And the exciting matchup no one expected between the Vikings and Jets. 

Here are The Post’s NFL power rankings for Week 13: 

1. Kansas City Chiefs 9-2 (1) 

Make it five wins in a row for the Chiefs, who needed only one Patrick Mahomes touchdown pass to beat the Rams, 26-10. Harrison Butker (four field goals) did the heavy lifting after the offense uncharacteristically stalled in the red zone. What sounded like a great preseason matchup lost its luster with Bryce Perkins replacing Matthew Stafford at quarterback. 

Patrick Mahomes
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2. Philadelphia Eagles 10-1 (2) 

In this era of so many dual-threat quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts became the first ever with at least 125 rushing yards and at least 125 passing yards in a half during a 40-33 victory against the Packers. Led by Hurts (157) and Miles Sanders (143), the Eagles rushed for 363 yards – the seventh-highest single-game total since 1975. 

3. Miami Dolphins 8-3 (4) 

The Dolphins returned from the bye week as hot as they entered it, building a 30-point lead before hanging on for a 30-15 victory against the Texans that ran their winning streak to five. Tua Tagovailoa has four straight interception-less games. The defense limited the Texans to 32 total yards on their first 25 plays. 

4. Buffalo Bills 8-3 (3) 

Crazy stat alert! Returning to Detroit only five days after tallying a snowstorm-forced neutral-site win there, the Bills edged the Lions, 28-25, on a field goal with two seconds remaining. That means the Bills (not the Lions) are the first team to win back-to-back games at Ford Field since 2016. Stefon Diggs made multiple game-changing catches in the final three minutes. 

5. Dallas Cowboys 8-3 (5) 

Dak Prescott’s 10th straight victory over the Giants was a second-half comeback on Thanksgiving. He threw two touchdowns to Dalton Schultz and six completions to one-handed magician CeeDee Lamb in a 28-20 victory. Micah Parsons’ two drive-altering sacks made it look like so many recent games in this rivalry, where the Giants offensive line is overmatched. 

6. Minnesota Vikings 9-2 (6) 

In a show of resilience, Kirk Cousins led scores on five straight true possessions early in the game and threw a fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown to Adam Thielen to beat the Patriots, 33-26, on Thanksgiving. What a wild few weeks, after the Vikings’ signature overtime win at the Bills was followed by a disastrous blowout loss to the Cowboys. 

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins
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7. San Francisco 49ers 7-4 (10) 

How good is this defense? After shutting out opponents in the second half of the previous three games, the 49ers doubled that effort, forced two fumbles by Alvin Kamara and blanked the Saints, 13-0. It was the first time New Orleans didn’t score in 333 games, back to 2001. Jimmy Garoppolo caught a break on a tipped-ball touchdown pass. 

8. Cincinnati Bengals 7-4 (12) 

Even without two of their top playmakers – Joe Mixon and Ja’Marr Chase – the Bengals repeated their first playoff surprise from last season’s Super Bowl run by beating the Titans, 20-16, in Nashville. Samaje Perine and Tee Higgins filled in perfectly for the injured duo. Joe Burrow was sacked just once after the Titans got him nine times in the playoffs. 

9. Baltimore Ravens 7-4 (7) 

Justin Tucker tried to break his own NFL record and rescue the Ravens after blowing a nine-point lead, but his 67-yard field goal fell short just as time expired in a 28-27 loss to the Jaguars. The defense allowed a third-and-21 completion leading to a fourth-down conversion as part of a touchdown drive (plus go-ahead two-point conversion) in the final 2:02. 

10. Tennessee Titans 7-4 (8) 

The Titans still haven’t allowed more than 20 points in eight straight games. But 20 still can be too much to overcome with the methodical way that they play offense, as shown in the loss to the Bengals. Derrick Henry was held to 17 carries for 38 yards. Three trips to the red zone resulted in zero touchdowns. 

11. Washington Commanders 7-5 (15) 

12. Seattle Seahawks 6-5 (11) 

13. New York Giants 7-4 (9) 

Head coach Brian Daboll faces his first bit of adversity. Two straight losses and a mountain of injuries, especially on the offensive line and in the secondary, threaten to ruin a fairytale underdog-to-the-playoffs story. Saquon Barkley carried 11 times for 39 yards, and Daniel Jones reverted to a mediocre one-dimensional quarterback without running lanes in the loss to the Cowboys. 

14. Los Angeles Chargers 6-5 (16) 

15. New England Patriots 6-5 (13) 

16. New York Jets 7-4 (17) 

Mike White replaced Zach Wilson as the starting quarterback and led the Jets to their first opening-drive touchdown of the season. He poured it on with 315 passing yards and three touchdowns (two to Garrett Wilson) in a 31-10 win over the Trevor Siemian-led Bears. For the fifth time, the defense was gifted a game against a backup quarterback. 

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-6 (14) 

18. Atlanta Falcons 5-7 (19) 

19. Jacksonville Jaguars 4-7 (25) 

20. Indianapolis Colts 4-7-1 (18) 

21. Arizona Cardinals 4-8 (20) 

22. Pittsburgh Steelers 4-7 (29 

23. Detroit Lions 4-7 (21) 

24. New Orleans Saints 4-8 (23) 

25. Las Vegas Raiders 4-7 (26) 

26. Green Bay Packers 4-8 (22) 

27. Carolina Panthers 4-8 (28) 

28. Cleveland Browns 4-7 (30) 

29. Los Angeles Rams 3-8 (24) 

30. Chicago Bears 3-9 (27) 

31. Denver Broncos 3-8 (31) 

32. Houston Texans 1-9-1 (32)

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Rangers blow another multi-goal lead in alarming loss to Devils

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Devils fans showed up in numbers to Madison Square Garden on Monday night to see it. 

Their flourishing, Metropolitan-leading Devils marched into enemy territory, winners of 15 of their last 16 games, to take on the slipping Rangers in a battle for power after years of simmering in their shadow. Their team did not disappoint, but the Rangers did, as they allowed another multi-goal lead to vanish in an alarm-bell-sounding 5-3 loss — their third in a row. 

The Rangers had won nine of their last 10 games against the Devils dating back to March 4, 2021, and had gone 14-6 since 2018-19. This was a Devils team that the Rangers finished 47 points ahead of last season, when they reached the Eastern Conference final while their counterparts across the Hudson watched the postseason from afar for a fourth straight year. 

Two things are for certain after this game: The Devils are no joke and the Rangers are in a predicament. 

The Devils rallied from two goals down to beat the Rangers on Monday.
Robert Sabo

“We’ve got to turn it around,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “Tonight was a good night to try and turn it around with the team that we were playing: a young team but they play hard, they play fast. I wouldn’t say that they’re the surprise team of the year, but they look really good and they play hard. 

“[Devils head coach] Lindy [Ruff] has done a good job with that team. They’ve got a lot of confidence and they’re playing the right way.” 

It’s not just the Rangers’ turnovers, which there have been plenty of in recent games, but how those mistakes always seem to end up in the back of the net one way or another. The Rangers are paying for it almost every time. That may be a testament to some bad puck luck, but also to goalie Igor Shesterkin’s drop-off from supernatural goaltender to just a good goaltender. 

Rangers
Devils center Michael McLeod (20) reacts after he rebounds the puck and scores a goal pass New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Robert Sabo

Shesterkin put all of the blame on himself after the loss, saying that he played “a s–t game” and that he’s “ashamed.” The Russian netminder stopped 33 of the 37 shots he faced, but it’s the goals the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner never surrendered last season that are likely weighing on his mind. 

“Every goal is [an] easy play for me,” he said without the help of translator. “I have to stop those. If our team wants to win the game, I have to play better.” 

The Rangers blew their second multi-goal lead in as many games, but it all went down in the opening 20 minutes instead of the final frame — as was the case in their third-period collapse against the Oilers on Saturday. 

After Artemi Panarin snapped a 12-game streak without a goal off an odd-man rush with Filip Chytil less than a minute and a half into the game, Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek fumbled a Jacob Trouba shot and Mika Zibanejad jammed home the rebound to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead roughly three minutes after the initial puck dropped. 

A two-goal deficit didn’t faze the Devils in the slightest. Their confidence with the puck never wavered, and the visitors finessed their way back into the game even before the first period ended on goals from Tomas Tatar and Yegor Sharangovich. 

Rangers
Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates with Rangers center Filip Chytill after he scores a goal.
Robert Sabo

Fans in red chirped their signature ‘Woo’s!’, which multiply when a game is leaning heavily in their favor, as their team ripped the game away from the Rangers. 

“It feels great to beat the Rangers,” Devils captain Nico Hischier told reporters. 

It wasn’t until there was 6:42 left in regulation that Vincent Trocheck made it a one-goal game for the Rangers, who failed to capitalize on any of their four man-advantage opportunities in the final 20 minutes. The Devils still closed them out — with Sharangovich adding an empty-netter for good measure — despite getting outshot 17-5 in the final frame. 

There was a shift that unfolded on the Garden ice Monday night. The Rangers were on the wrong end of it.

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