After their loss on the floor of the Dallas Wings, the players of the Phoenix Mercury were preparing to take a flight to Indianapolis, the place of their next meeting. It was then that they were taken to task by a member of Blaze TV, an ultra-conservative media outlet which was particularly targeting Brittney Griner.
The provocateur bluntly demanded an apology from the Mercury player for her positions on the United States in the past: “Do you still hate the United States so much, Brittney?” » he repeated to her several times, pursuing her for several meters.
Released last December as part of a prisoner exchange, after having spent nearly 300 days in detention in Russia, Brittney Griner received the support of the players, of her franchise but also of the WNBA.
In a press releasethe league says it is investigating the incident at Dallas airport with a ” figure of social networks ” whose ” actions were inappropriate and regrettable“. “The safety of Brittney Griner and all WNBA players is our top priority” recalls the league.
Finally private flights for the WNBA franchises?
This incident reopens the debate on private flights in the WNBA. As a reminder, WNBA teams have taken commercial flights during the regular season since the league’s inception in 1997. The reason? The league does not want to disadvantage franchises that cannot afford private flights for an entire season.
“League rules say I can’t talk about travel, but I can talk about safety. We will therefore ensure that our players, our franchise and our staff are safe.” said Vanessa Nygaard, Mercury coach. “We will make adjustments that perhaps should have been made before, but for now we will prioritize the safety of our players, and we have seen that our franchise is supporting us”.
Prior to this season, the league had simply accepted special flights for back-to-back teams. But among the players, we want it to be generalized.
“I’m not going to lie, it made me angry” confess Emma CannonFever player, one of Brittney Griner’s best friends. “I saw the little clip and it’s heartbreaking. As a league, we deserve to be treated as we are. WNBA players, all 144 players, should travel on private flights”.
A cost of 20 million dollars
In the past, Joe Tsai’s New York Liberty was fined $500,000 for chartering flights to away games during the 2021 season.
“It’s really unfortunate what happened, I really hate it” added Christie SidesFever coach. “It’s a collective bargaining issue, when the league changes its mind and we’re able to get those charter flights, then that’ll be great. I hope it will be as soon as possible, but it all depends on the league.”.
Patroness of the WNBA, Cathy Engelbert, has said in the past that it’s just not on the cards right now without sponsors or funds to offset the costs. She had estimated that it would cost more than $20 million to travel the 12 teams for the entire season. Will the incident suffered by Brittney Griner be the trigger? However, that didn’t stop the player from scoring 29 points to lead the Mercury to victory on the Fever court.
In response to the incident, obviously considered, the WNBA also explained that Brittney Griner had obtained authorization to take private flights throughout the campaign. But Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who represents the player, explains that this is inaccurate and that the plan was rather a mixture of private and commercial flights.
“They were there and were harassed in the airport terminal because of a league plan which included a mix of private flights and a restricted number of flights businesses with security protocols that didn’t work” says agent, who calls on league to lift restrictions and let owners offer private flights “until the league economy allows private flights to be imposed on the entire league”.