The Phoenix Mercury are prioritizing Brittney Griner’s unique security concerns as they plan their travel for the 2023 season.
The WNBA does not allow teams to charter private flights for regular-season games. But Griner could warrant an exception, and the Mercury have been in conversations with the league and with their star about how to handle flights for her and for the team.
The 32-year-old center was imprisoned in Russia for nearly 10 months before the U.S. government secured her release in December. Her high-profile case, and the polarized public response, could necessitate increased security measures.
“It’s safe to say that as we consider all of those things, her safety as we travel is a top priority,” Mercury president Vince Kozar told Insider.
While Griner entered the offseason as a free agent, she re-signed with Phoenix on a one-year, $165,100 contract. In 2021, her most recent season, she averaged 20.5 points and a career-high 9.5 rebounds per game.
Yet her plight in Russia and her homecoming have increased her profile and have turned her into a political lightning rod. The Mercury want to do everything in their power to ease her return to the WNBA and to protect her safety and privacy as they do so.
“We were acutely aware of the way that her return has been used to try and further polarize people,” Kozar said. “We understand that certain [people] have tried to continue to use this to polarize people… and we understand that people have done that through the lens of BG’s identity, which is as a woman, it’s as a Black woman, and it’s as a gay, Black woman.
“None of that is lost on us, and we understand that words oftentimes can be a precursor to violence. And so we take all of that incredibly seriously.”
And while Griner will be playing for Phoenix, there has been a “collective commitment” to support the star player and the Mercury in their efforts, Kozar said.
Yet no matter how the WNBA handles Griner’s case, count on the issue of charter flights to remain a sticking point for players. New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart in particular made the prospect of charter flights in the WNBA a key component in her free agency, and Griner’s safety concerns will keep the discussion at the forefront.