Brittney Griner, harassed at airport, wishes WNBA had acted faster on travel arrangements

Griner and several of her Phoenix Mercury teammates were targeted for heckling at the Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport on June 10.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner called out the WNBA on Monday over the teams’ travel arrangements following a harrowing experience at the Dallas airport earlier this month, ESPN reports.

YouTuber Alex Stein heckled Griner and several of her teammates at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on June 10. The social media personality followed Griner and harassed her about being imprisoned in Russia last year. In a viral video of the encounter, Stein asks Griner about Russian arms dealer Viktor Anatolyevich and if she had sex with Russian President Vladimir Putin to be freed.

The video of the airport heckling incident shows Mercury security pushing Stein away from Griner as he presses her about her release.

Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury warms up before the team’s game against the Seattle Storm at Climate Pledge Arena Saturday in Seattle, Washington. She called out the WNBA on Monday over the teams’ travel arrangements. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Griner — imprisoned in Russia on drug charges in February 2022 — received a nine-year jail sentence and spent nearly 10 months in a penal colony before returning to America as part of a controversial prisoner exchange for Anatolyevich in December 2022. She was heckled at DFW before the Mercury traveled from Dallas to Indianapolis.

As ESPN reports, sources claim Griner is permitted to fly privately all year. It’s unclear whether she was on the commercial flight because Mercury did not request a charter.

Speaking to the press Monday, Griner called the airport encounter with Stein a “rock bottom” moment underscoring the players’ need to travel via private flights.

Prior to the 2023 season starting, the league and Mercury developed a travel plan to protect Griner following her return from Russia. She received approval to fly charter flights to protect her from having confrontations such as the Dallas airport incident.

A source told ESPN that a “hybrid plan” was created in early April that allows for the two-time Olympic gold medalist to travel via two preapproved charter flights. The league has the option to approve more charters as needed. The one condition was that Griner would be the only Mercury player allowed to travel by charter plane.

“‘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 during the video media call on Monday, according to ESPN.

“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’s’ going to be,” she continued. 

The league’s travel plan allows for Griner and the Mercury to fly standard routes on JSX public chartering jet service, which has preset routes and schedules, ESPN reports. The service does not offer flights to and from all WNBA cities. As part of the league’s specialized plan for Griner, she can fly first-class commercial for all other trips, according to ESPN.

Flights outside JSX’s preset schedule can be created, but are more costly. It is this type of private chartering that the WNBA prohibits because it is not financially feasible for all 12 teams and therefore is a competitive advantage issue. ESPN reports regulations regarding travel are codified in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.

The Phoenix team’s travel arrangements for the remainder of the season are unclear.

According to Fox 10 Phoenix, the WNBA players’ union issued a statement contending that the airport incident makes it “quite clear that the matter of charter travel is NOT a ‘competitive advantage’ issue.”

The WNBPA statement notes that Griner and her teammates experienced “a calculated confrontation that left them feeling very unsafe. Everyone who was paying attention knew this would happen.”

“No one, regardless of identity, should ever fear for their safety,” Phoenix Mercury officials said, in part, in a statement, Fox 10 Phoenix reported. 

A source tells ESPN that the entire Mercury team can now use JSX “created” routes since Griner’s safety was compromised during the heckling incident at DFW.

“We’ve all seen what can happen in this world,” Griner said in this week’s media call. “And when you play the ‘let’s-wait-and-see game,’ you’re really playing with fire. You’re playing with people’s lives.”

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