While traveling through the Dallas Fort-Worth International airport on Saturday morning, Brittney Griner and her Phoenix Mercury teammates were confronted and harassed by right-wing YouTuber Alex Stein.
Initial news of the confrontation was posted to Twitter by Mercury forward Brianna Turner, who wrote: “Player safety while traveling should be at the forefront. People following with cameras saying wild remarks is never acceptable. Excessive harassment. Our team nervously huddled in a corner unsure how to move about. We demand better.”
“As we gather additional information about today’s incident at the Dallas airport, it has come to our attention that this was orchestrated by a social media figure and provocateur. His actions were inappropriate and unfortunate,” the WNBA said in a statement. “The safety of Brittney Griner and all WNBA players is our top priority.”
Griner, who was detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022, made her return to the WNBA last month. Prior to the start of the 2023 season, concerns about her safety while traveling were raised as the league does not currently allow teams to charter flights for the majority of their games. In an April interview with the Associated Press, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league was working with the Mercury and Griner’s team to establish a plan.
“We’ve been working with Brittney and Phoenix since she signed and our security experts,” Engelbert said at the time. “Working on a plan, but we want it to be confidential. She wants to travel with the team sometimes. Work as much as we can making sure we are following advice of our team. We have a very good plan, but I’m not going to share more specifics.”
In the WNBA’s statement on Saturday, the league noted that Griner’s established safety plan “included charter flights for WNBA games and assigned security personnel with her at all times.” But while Griner has been approved to fly charter, that exception does not apply to her Phoenix Mercury teammates.
Following Saturday’s incident, the WNBPA — the players’ union — called on the league to immediately change its policy on charter flights for all players.
“What BG and all of her PHX teammates experienced today was a calculated confrontation that left them feeling very unsafe,” the WNBPA said in a statement. “Everyone who was paying attention knew this would happen. We could have and should have been more proactive. Allowing teams to fly charter is ONLY about player health and safety, and until the league and teams take this issue seriously, situations like this will continue to occur.”
Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas echoed that message on Twitter: “We cannot celebrate these women and their leadership without also protecting them. It’s past time for charters and enhanced security measures for all players.”
The WNBA expanded the use of charter flights for the 2023 season to include all postseason games and a handful of games on back-to-back nights. While some WNBA owners have publicly called for charter flights — with some even receiving fines for breaking the rules — the league has previously pushed back on the idea, citing the high cost and noting that it wasn’t a priority for players during their collective bargaining negotiations in 2020.