Saturday saw Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner and some of her teammates followed in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by YouTube personality Alex Stein. Stein posted video of him yelling political questions at Griner, and that incident sparked a lot of discussion around player safety. But a lot of that discussion centered on why Griner and the Mercury were flying commercial. And that’s now led to a dispute between the WNBA and Griner’s agent on if the league had allowed full charter flights for the Mercury or not.
Many WNBA players and their players’ association have long pushed to make charter flights mandatory, or at least always allowed. (Some WNBA owners have previously been punished for exceeding league limits on charter travel). That was brought up in the WBPA statement on this, which said “Every commercial flight forced upon our players is a threat to their health and safety.”
But the league shot back with their own statement saying they’d permitted the Mercury to do all-charter travel this year, and the team had chosen not to. However, that claim has now taken some fire. Rachel Bachman of The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Griner’s agent (on the record) and a Mercury source both dispute that assertion from the WNBA:
NEW: The WNBA says it approved charter travel for Brittney Griner for the entire 2023 season.
Her agent says that's not accurate, and that the league-approved plan "included a mix of charter and a select number of commercial flights."https://t.co/ZDtNFF8DxB
— Rachel Bachman (@Bachscore) June 11, 2023
Here’s more on that from Bachman’s piece:
The WNBA said in a Saturday statement that it worked with “the Phoenix Mercury and BG’s team to ensure her safety during her travel, which included charter flights for WNBA games and assigned security personnel with her at all times.”
The WNBA clarified in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that the league said all flights for Griner in 2023 could be charter. “We informed the Phoenix Mercury earlier this year to move ahead with any arrangements they felt were appropriate and needed including charter flights,” the statement said.
However, a person familiar with the Mercury said the league didn’t approve charter flights for Griner for the entire 2023 season.
Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, indicated that Griner and her teammates weren’t flying commercial by choice. “They were there and faced harassment in the terminal because of a league plan that included a mix of charter and a select number of commercial flights with security protocols that failed.”
Kagawa Colas called for the league to lift restrictions and let team owners provide charter flights “until the economics of the league allow for mandated leaguewide charter travel.”
It’s possible that the dispute here comes down to differing interpretations of the WNBA office’s comments to the Mercury on this ahead of the season. But there certainly is a key fact at dispute here. Either the Mercury proposed an all-charter plan to the league that got turned down, or they didn’t propose one despite league indications that they could.
In any case, at least one of those sides is responsible for the Mercury flying commercial Saturday. And it will be interesting to see if the league changes its charter-limiting policies in the wake of this event. At any rate, the incident here between Stein and Griner and her teammates has definitely brought the discussion around WNBA charter flights back into the spotlight.
[The Wall Street Journal; photo of Griner warming up ahead of a May 19 game from Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports]