June 12, 2023 

Mercury players, head coach Vanessa Nygaard address Dallas airport incident

Nygaard confirms Mercury organization will update travel safety protocols

In the aftermath of a heckler yelling at Brittney Griner at the Dallas airport on Saturday, members of the Phoenix Mercury spoke on the incident before and after Sunday’s game at the Indiana Fever.

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While not permitted to speak on travel, Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard did address whether or not Griner was permitted to fly on a chartered plane. Her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said that the WNBA permitted chartered flights but not for every away game.

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Nygaard said the team follows the guidelines on travel permitted by the WNBA.

“Phoenix as an organization — we follow the rules,” Nygaard said. “And we are given guidelines on travel and we followed the guidelines established by the league, which we always do… There’s a lot of high-level details I’m not privy to but I do know that we were following the guidelines that we were given.”

Forward Brianna Turner spoke on if she felt the league failed Phoenix in the situation and while she would not go as far to blame the WNBA, she said Saturday’s incident at the airport was a “huge disappointment” and “more measures could have been in place.”

Turner and Nygaard also addressed the incident itself, where the heckler shouted at Griner regarding her release from wrongful Russian detainment.

“It was obviously alarming, very startling” Turner said. “To just show up to the airport and have people waiting at your gate to just totally abrupt your day and follow you around the airport shouting, causing a scene. So that’s obviously nothing no one wants to deal with especially when you’re on a business trip for work. Again, we’re representing the league, representing the city of Phoenix, representing our organization. And in times like that, we don’t want to cause a scene further. We don’t want to throw phones or yell and say things back so we kind of just have to take it and just — I guess it’s a lesson you learn from, you live and learn. If it happens again, what do we do next?”

Nygaard opened the team’s pregame press conference by saying nobody should be a victim of targeted harassment, expressing gratitude that the team is physically safe and also expressing gratitude that Griner is back in the United States. She implored people to visit bringourfamilieshome.org, the website for the Bring Our Families Home campaign, to learn about Americans who are wrongfully detained.

Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who is in her 19th season with the franchise and is regarded as the team leader, talked after the game about how she led through this incident.

“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 to 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 just to breathe. Sometimes you just got to breathe.”

As for the game itself, the team did not seem distracted as they picked up their first road win of the season, 85-82, to improve to 2-5 on the season. Griner had one of her best performances of the season, scoring 29 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots.

Nygaard was asked about winning after everything that happened this weekend.

“We lost a couple in a row and we want to win,” Nygaard said. “There’s been some other things but really, this is about our team and staying focused on the main thing which is helping the Mercury win. And so it feels good but we got another game in two days.”

One would expect the organization to update travel safety protocols following Saturday’s incident and Nygaard confirmed they will do so.

“Yes, we will be making adjustments that maybe should’ve happened before, but right now we’re going to prioritize the safety of our players,” Nygaard said.”

Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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