The Phoenix Mercury will be making adjustments to their travel plans for the WNBA season after star center Brittney Griner was confronted by a right-wing YouTuber at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday.
Diana Taurasi called the incident, which occurred as the Mercury were heading from Texas to Indiana for the next game of their road trip, “disrespectful” to Griner, the team and the league. The Phoenix guard also pushed for the WNBA to take action to protect its players.
“That can’t happen,” Taurasi said after Sunday’s 85-82 win against the Indiana Fever. “The safety of everyone comes first. You know basketball is secondary to all that. People have families, kids. To be put in that situation really is disrespectful, to not only BG, but to our team, to the league.
“So hopefully they can take steps to make sure that the security of our players throughout the league is at the forefront.”
Mercury forward Brianna Turner, who initially called out the incident Saturday on social media, said on Sunday that the experience was a “huge disappointment.”
“I mean, I don’t blame the league, obviously no one could’ve predicted this,” she said. “But at the same time, I think more measures could have been in place, absolutely.”
The confrontation rattled the players, Turner said.
“It was startling to show up to the airport to have people waiting at your gate to just totally (disrupt) your day and follow you around on the airport, shouting and causing a scene,” she said. “That’s obviously nothing anyone wants to deal with, especially on a business trip for work, representing the league, the city of Phoenix, our organization.
“And in times like that, we don’t want to throw phones or yell and say things back, so we kind of have to take it. I guess you live and learn, but I don’t know … if it happens again, what do we do next? I’m not really sure of that answer yet.”
The Mercury will make travel adjustments that “maybe should have happened before,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said before Sunday’s game.
“Right now, we’re going to prioritize the safety of our players,” she said, though she did not provide details of the changes.
The WNBA said in a statement Saturday that Griner had been approved to fly private charter for games this season, and that they had informed the Phoenix Mercury earlier this year “to move ahead with any arrangements they felt were appropriate and needed, including charter flights.” But there may have been uncertainty over whether the Mercury were allowed to pay for all of the charters, the WNBPA told ESPN on Sunday.
New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart, who made charter flights a key piece of her free agency negotiations, called the incident “traumatizing” for WNBA players.
“I think that player safety should be first and foremost,” Stewart said. “Everyone was aware that BG coming back to the WNBA this season was going to be a little bit different. A lot more eyes, a lot more publicity, positives and negatives, and wanting to make sure that she’s protected at all times.
“The fact that she wasn’t (protected) yesterday, I think it’s a little bit traumatizing for all of us to think about. Because we feel for her and we want her to be safe and know that when she’s with us, she should be able to be herself. So I think that there needs to be extra precautionary measures taken, I don’t think anyone is against BG having charter flights whenever she wants so that she can be herself and travel and be comfortable and be safe.”
WNBA players across the league have addressed the incident, renewing calls for league-wide charter flights.
“This is something that we’ve been talking about months before the season started and it’s just frustrating that we have to go through something like this to have more change,” Stewart said.
Fever guard Emma Cannon, who is a friend and former teammate of Griner, was angered by what happened.
“I’ve seen the little snippet of the video, and that’s upsetting,” Cannon said. “We as a league deserve to be treated as our standard has been. WNBA players, the top 144 players, we should be charter.”
And Fever coach Christie Sides said she would like to see the issue of charter flights in the WNBA can get worked out sooner rather than later.
“That was really unfortunate, what happened, I really hate it,” Sides said. “That’s a CBA thing, you know, where the league, when they change their mind and we’re able to get those charter flights, it’ll be awesome. Hopefully, that’s sooner than later, but that’s all in the league.”
Turner will likely be part of driving that change as a vice president of the WNBPA.
“Players are really supportive of us and making sure that BG is safe,” Turner said. “Obviously, we want the best for all players traveling. … I don’t want any other team to go through what we went through, and hopefully we don’t go through that again.”