June 10, 2023 

Phoenix Mercury, Griner are apparent targets of harassment at Dallas airport

Players, WNBPA call for heightened safety measures

The Phoenix Mercury and star center Brittney Griner appear to have been targets of a harassment incident at a Dallas airport on Saturday, re-igniting conversation around player safety and sparking renewed calls for charter flights.

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In a video posted on social media, a man is shown yelling at Griner, who was wrongfully detained in a Russian prison in 2022. Griner was freed in December through a prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout. The man in the video references Bout and yells that Griner “hates America.”

As a result, Mercury forward Brianna Turner tweeted, the Mercury players “nervously huddled in a corner unsure how to move about.”

Phoenix Mercury teammate Shey Peddy added that the incident was “completely unacceptable.”

The Mercury players contacted Terri Jackson, the executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), from the airport and relayed what had happened. According to reports, the man was eventually pushed away by security personnel and tackled.

The WNBA issued a statement on Saturday that called the incident “inappropriate and unfortunate.”

“The safety of Brittney Griner and all WNBA players is our top priority,” the statement continued. “Prior to the season, the WNBA worked together 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.  We remain steadfastly committed to the highest standards of security for players.”

The WNBPA also issued a statement that criticized the provision in the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement that requires teams to fly commercially rather than take charter flights.

“As we continue to hear from our members throughout the start of the season and particularly today with the situation involving the Phoenix Mercury at the Dallas airport, we are quite clear that the matter of charter travel is NOT a ‘competitive advantage’ issue,” the WNBPA said. “We cannot help but wonder if the league and teams preclude more reasonable and flexible rules regarding charter travel in 2023 in order to seek leverage on this issue at the bargaining table.

“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.

“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.”

Players and others around the WNBA also reacted to the incident on social media. Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham reposted the WNBPA’s statement to her Instagram story and implored the WNBA and its commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, to “PROTECT YOUR PLAYERS.”

Isabelle Harrison, a forward for the Chicago Sky and a teammate of Griner’s in Phoenix in 2016, tweeted that Griner should be able to get additional security.

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, requested charter flights and improved security for players across the league in a thread on Twitter. “It’s past time for charters and enhanced security measures for all players,” Kagawa Colas wrote.

The WNBA had foreseen potential security issues before the 2023 season began. Engelbert said in an April press conference that the league was looking for more security for its players.

“We all want to protect all of our players,” Engelbert said. “So we’re looking at additional security for all of our players — not just Brittney, but Brittney definitely.”

The Mercury said in a statement that they will work with the WNBA in response to Saturday’s incident. The team also reaffirmed its commitments both to player health and well-being and to raising awareness about American citizens who are unjustly detained abroad. In April, the Mercury partnered with Bring Our Families Home to increase awareness, mobilize people to take action and support those affected by unjust detention in foreign countries.

“The health and well-being of our players and staff are our top priority and we will always take every step within our power to protect player safety,” the Mercury’s statement read in part. “We are committed to our support of BG and advocating for all American hostages abroad. We will continue our support of marginalized communities and fighting the kind of hate that targeted us today.

“No one, regardless of identity, should ever fear for their safety.”

Written by Aya Abdeen

Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next since December 2022. She is also a sports reporter for the Sun Devils’ women’s basketball team for The State Press. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.

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