Home » ‘Adjustments’ coming after Griner airport incident

‘Adjustments’ coming after Griner airport incident

Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said before Sunday’s game at Indiana that the organization “will be making adjustments that maybe should have happened before,” regarding the safety of the team during WNBA travel.

Nygaard did not specify what that might entail, other than to say, “Right now, we’re going to prioritize the safety of our players.”

A Blaze Media YouTube personality confronted the team at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday morning before the Mercury traveled to Indiana after playing twice in Arlington, Texas, this past week. The man, described by the WNBA as a “provocateur,” shouted questions at Phoenix center Brittney Griner while filming her and her teammates.

The league said Saturday in a statement that Griner has been approved to fly charter for WNBA games. Phoenix has not said why she was not doing so Saturday.

“I was hired to be the coach of the team, [I’m] not in maybe all of those conversations about those [travel] things,” Nygaard said. “I do know Phoenix as an organization, we follow the rules. And we were given guidelines of travel, and we follow the guidelines established by the league.”

The players’ union, the WNBPA, told ESPN on Sunday there may have been uncertainty about whether the Mercury were allowed to pay for all the charters, even though Griner had been approved for them. However, the league told ESPN Sunday that the Mercury were allowed to do so.

“Given her special situation, the WNBA approved charter flights for BG for the 2023 season,” a league spokesperson said. “We informed the Phoenix Mercury earlier this year to move ahead with any arrangements they felt were appropriate and needed, including charter flights.”

Griner is playing in the WNBA again this year after missing all of last season. Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February 2022 when she was returning to Russia to continue her overseas basketball season there. Russian customs officials said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage, which she later acknowledged in court while saying she had no criminal intent and had packed them in haste.

Last August, Griner was sentenced to a nine-year prison term but in December was freed through a negotiated prisoner exchange between the United States and Russian governments.

Griner has been warmly welcomed back by crowds at home in Phoenix and on the road. This past week, she returned to her home state of Texas, where the Mercury fell to the Dallas Wings on Wednesday and Friday.

For cost reasons, the WNBA primarily flies via commercial airlines. The league announced earlier this year that it will have charter flights for playoff games and certain regular-season games that are played on back-to-back days requiring air travel.

Griner being approved by the league to charter for all games is an exception because of the publicity surrounding her detainment and release.

Griner’s teammate, Brianna Turner, said that the incident Saturday was alarming.

“It was startling to show up to the airport to have people waiting at your gate to just totally [disrupt] your day and follow you around on the airport, shouting and causing a scene,” Turner said. “That’s obviously nothing anyone wants to deal with, especially on a business trip for work, representing the league, the city of Phoenix, our organization.

“And in times like that, we don’t want to throw phones or yell and say things back, so we kind of have to take it. I guess you live and learn, but I don’t know … if it happens again, what do we do next? I’m not really sure of that answer yet.”

Asked if she thought enough had been done to prevent what happened, she said: “I would say yesterday was a huge disappointment. I don’t blame the league. Obviously, no one could have predicted this. But at the same time, I think more measures could have been in place.”