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Brittney Griner: WNBA shouldn’t ‘wait and see’ on travel concerns

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The travel situation for Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury had to hit “rock bottom” before the WNBA addressed the issue, Griner said Monday.

Earlier this month, Griner and her Mercury teammates were harassed by a right-wing YouTuber at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport en route to a road game. In the aftermath of the incident, WNBA players again called for better travel options — particularly for Griner, who was detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022 and has attracted increased attention since her return.

While the WNBA expanded its charter flight program for the 2023 season, most travel still comes on commercial flights in premium economy seats.

In addition to allowing charter flights for travel to back-to-back games, the WNBA also is allowing teams to fly on public charter service JetSuiteX. JSX offers preset routes and schedules but operates out of private terminals, which helps teams bypass airports and TSA security. But only a few WNBA cities are serviced by JSX, and the WNBA prohibits teams from working with JSX to create flights outside of its usual schedule.

“I’ll say this. I think we should have already had the option to use a different airline, a more private airline, charter flights,” Griner said Monday. “It’s a shame that it had to get to rock bottom, because I feel like waiting for something to happen and then making a change… You don’t know what that something is going to be. We’ve all seen what can happen in this world. And when you play the ‘let’s-wait-and-see’ game, you’re really playing with fire. You’re playing with people’s lives.

“So I’m glad that they finally got it together — and, you know, are going to allow us to do this. It’s just a shame that it took so damn long, honestly.”

While the airport confrontation brought the issue of the Mercury’s travel arrangements to the forefront, the WNBA and the Mercury have kept the details of the team’s travel plans private for safety reasons.

The Mercury have been allowed to use JSX flights for the entire team on “created” routes due to special circumstances, ESPN reported. Neither the league nor the Mercury have confirmed such usage.

Also according to ESPN, Griner was approved to fly privately for the entire season after the incident; according to the league, Griner had permission to do so since the beginning of the season.

While WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that the Mercury had been told to do “anything you want to do” in terms of Griner’s travel due to the situation, a source told ESPN that that recommendation was not as broad before the start of the season. Per ESPN, the WNBA approved a “hybrid plan,” which included Griner flying on two preapproved charter flights, with the option to add more with the approval of the league.