Early on Saturday morning, Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury were harassed by a social media provacateur at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport as they prepared to leave the city following two games against the Dallas Wings. In the wake of the incident, players around the league have renewed their call for charter flights and improved player safety while traveling. 

Travel conditions, and specifically charter flights, have been a key issue for players in recent years, and the league did make some changes prior to this season. Charter flights were approved when teams were playing on back-to-backs and for trips to the Commissioner’s Cup championship game and all WNBA playoff games. During the regular season, however, they are not allowed due to competitive-balance reasons. 

While some owners would be willing and able to pay for such perks, other owners either may not have the funds or are unwilling to allocate them in that manner. 

In regards to Griner, the league released a statement on Saturday indicating that the Mercury had been allowed to fly private this season after the eight-time All-Star returned from a 10-month detention in Russia on drug charges. The Mercury were flying commercial when the incident happened, however, and a source close to the team told the Wall Street Journal that charter flights had not been approved for the entire season. 

Regardless of what had actually been worked out between the league and the Mercury, the players were unanimous in their response following Saturday’s unacceptable incident. Here’s a look at some of the notable statements:

WNBPA wonders why league was not more proactive

Griner was eventually released via a prisoner swap in which an arms dealer called “The Merchant of Death” was sent back to Russia. The nature of her release, and some of her previous comments regarding the national anthem, made Griner an easy target for political commentators. 

As such, there was real concern about an incident just like this taking place during the season. The Players Association was curious, then, why more was not done to proactively protect Griner. 

“What BG and all of her PHX teammates experienced today was a calculated confrontation that left them feeling very unsafe. Everyone who was paying attention knew this would happen. We could have and should have been more proactive,” the WNBPA wrote in a statement on Saturday. 

“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. Every commercial flight forced upon our players is a threat to their health and safety. We implore the league and the teams not to wait another day to change the rule regarding travel.”

Mercury players share firsthand experience

The first we learned of the incident came from Mercury forward Brianna Turner, who Tweeted from the airport.

On Sunday, following the team’s win over the Indiana Fever, Diana Taurasi spoke with the media and shared her thoughts. 

“It’s unnerving to be in a situation like that,” Taurasi said. “And unfortunately, it was literally the first time we were in public together. So, that can’t happen. That can’t happen for our players or coaches. The safety of everyone comes first. Basketball is secondary to all that. People have families, kids. And to be put in that situation really is pretty disrespectful to I think not only BG but our team, to the league really. 

“So hopefully they can take steps into making sure that the security of our players throughout the league is at the forefront. And I just told BG one simple thing and that’s to breathe. Sometimes you just got to breathe.”

Safety over competitive advantage

New York Liberty forward Brenna Stewart, who has been at the forefront of the push to make charter flights a league-wide standard, spoke about the issue on Sunday prior to her team’s win over the Dallas Wings. She noted that Griner’s safety is the main concern, and that other players are fine with her having special arrangements

“I mean I think that player safety should be first and foremost and everyone was aware that BG coming back to the WNBA this season was going to be a little bit different,” Stewart said. “A lot more eyes, a lot more publicity, positives and negatives, and wanting to make sure that she’s protected at all times. 

“And the fact that she wasn’t yesterday I think it’s a little bit just 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 back 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 because the last thing we want is what happened yesterday.”

Multiple players took to social media to second that perspective. 

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