Several WNBA athletes are calling on the league to do more to keep players safe while traveling after Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was subjected to “excessive harassment” Saturday at a Dallas airport.
The Mercury were traveling to Indianapolis from Dallas on Saturday morning following a 90-77 defeat against the Dallas Wings Friday when an “inappropriate and unfortunate” confrontation occurred, the league said.
Phoenix forward Brianna Turner said people followed the Mercury with cameras while shouting “wild remarks” at them. “Our team nervously huddled in a corner, not knowing how to move,” Turner recalled on Twitter.
The WNBA said the incident “was orchestrated by a social media personality and provocateur” who pointed the finger at Griner, the six-time All-Star who was detained for nearly 10 months in Russia after being recognized guilty of carrying hash oil in her luggage while she was gambling. overseas.
Twitter user @alexstein99 shared a photo of himself “calling Brittney Griner” at the airport and posted a clip of the encounter, where he yelled at her that she “hates America.” He teased the release of the full video.
The Mercury said it was “looking into the incident”. In a statement, the team added: “We are committed to supporting BG and defending all American hostages abroad. We will continue our support for marginalized communities and fight against the type of hatred that targets us today. No one, regardless of their identity. , should never fear for their safety. We will coordinate with the WNBA on next steps.
The WNBA said “the safety of Brittney Griner and all WNBA players is our top priority.”
“Prior to the season, the WNBA worked with the Phoenix Mercury and BG team to ensure their safety during their travel, which included charter flights to WNBA games, and assigned security personnel with them at all times. “, the press release said. “We remain firmly committed to upholding the highest standards of player safety.”
The incident brings back the question of charter flights for WNBA teams for the health and safety of players. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert previously said it’s “just not feasible at this time” without sponsors or financial backers to offset the costs. Engelbert estimated that it would be cost more than $20 million to charter the 12 teams for the entire season.
“We surveyed all the major airlines. We asked charter companies. I’ve been working on this since I came into the league. …If we could sponsor it or fund it in some way…I’m all ears,” she said earlier this year.
The National Women’s Basketball Players Association, however, said “every commercial flight imposed on our players poses a threat to their health and safety,” primarily Griner, who faces security concerns after being released from detention in Russia in December.
“What BG and all of his PHX teammates experienced today was a calculated confrontation that left them in great danger,” the WNPBA said in a statement. statement SATURDAY. “Everyone who was paying attention knew this was coming. We could and should have been more proactive. … We implore the league and teams not to wait another day to change the travel rule.”
After Saturday’s incident, Turner agreed: “The safety of traveling players should be at the forefront. People following with cameras saying off-color remarks is never acceptable. Excessive harassment.”
In April, likely in response to significant internal and external pressure to improve travel, Engelbert and the WNBA announced an increased charter program for the 2023 season. This year, teams will participate in the entire playoffs, to the WNBA Commissioners Cup game and regular season “select” competitions where teams will have back-to-back games scheduled.
Contributor: Lindsay Schnell