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WNBA Travel Policy is a Matter of Player Safety

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Courtesy of Michael Gonzales

On June 10 Brittney Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was harassed at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Social media personnel Alex Stein, started filming Griner and repeatedly asked her questions related to her prison release from Russia. He was told to stop asking these questions and to stop filming her, but he ignored the requests. Stein continued to make aggressive comments and actions, even allegedly pushing one of the security guards.

The travel policy for the WNBA has been a topic of discussion previously, but this incident brings up the concern for player safety once again. Following the harassment, Griner’s teammate Brianna Turner, went to Twitter to voice her concerns and call for action from the WNBA. “Player safety while traveling should be at the forefront. People following with cameras saying wild remarks is never acceptable. Excessive harassment. Our team nervously huddled in a corner unsure how to move about. We demand better.”

Courtesy of Ethan Miller

The harassment happened when the team was waiting to board a commercial flight after their game against Dallas. Players in the league have been asking for better travel conditions, stating that using commercial flights puts them in an environment to be confronted by the public.

At the beginning of this season, the WNBA made adjustments to their travel policy. Previously, the league only allowed teams to use charter flights during the playoffs. The updates this season allows teams to use charter flights throughout the entirety of the postseason, for games that are back-to-back, and for the visiting team in the Commissioner’s Cup final. The catch for this is, teams may only use charter flights with JSX with pre-set routes and times. However in most WNBA cities, JSX isn’t an available charter line. Mercury used a JSX flight from LA to Dallas, but a JSX flight to Indiana was unavailable, making Griner accessible to public scrutiny.

Courtesy of Christian Petersen

Following the incident, the WNBA announced it will allow Griner to fly all charter flights for the remainder of the season. The rest of her team may be allowed to fly charter as well, but it’s not guaranteed. Some suggest that this would give Phoenix Mercury an unfair advantage, as the league has previously prevented teams from flying exclusively charter. In 2021, the New York Liberty went against the WNBA travel policy regarding flying, and were charged with a $500,000 fine.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert would like to make charter flights an option for all teams, but this may not be possible financially. Switching the teams to fly all charter flights would be very costly, and Englebert said she won’t jeopardize the league to make this happen right away. To gradually move toward this goal, a WNBA executive told ESPN,"My hope is the league may open the door and say you can charter five in 2024, you pick which one. And we gradually move to full charter.” In the meantime, some teams have hired security guards to protect them from the public. No matter what the WNBA decision, players and teams need to be protected now.

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