Phoenix Mercury Makes Travel ‘Adjustments’ Following Airport Incident With Brittney Griner
Phoenix Mercury Makes Travel 'Adjustments' Following Airport Incident With Brittney Griner
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard scored a goal before taking the field on Sunday.
She wants the WNBA to take extra steps to keep her team’s traveling groups safe.
A day after Mercury center Brittney Griner was confronted by a ‘provocateur’ at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the two coaches and a handful of players suggested more charter flights could help avoid future skirmishes with strangers.
“We will ensure that our players, our organization and our staff are safe,” she said. “We will make (travel) adjustments that maybe should have happened before, but for now we will prioritize the safety of our players and we have seen that the organization has supported us.
The incident certainly didn’t impact Griner’s performance. She scored a season-high 29 points and six rebounds in an 85-82 victory, just the second this season for the Mercury.
Griner usually speaks to reporters after the first road trip in each city, but Mercury officials decided not to make her available Sunday.
Obviously, the incident had an impact on Phoenix. Longtime star Diana Taurasi’s pre-game advice to Griner was to simply “breathe” and Taurasi asked the league not to ignore it.
“It’s unsettling to be in a situation like this and unfortunately it was literally the first time we were in public together,” said Taurasi, who turned 41 on Sunday. “It can’t happen to our players or our coaches. Everyone’s safety comes first; basketball is secondary to all that. People have families, children and to find themselves in this situation is really quite disrespectful not only towards BG but also towards our team, towards the league. So hopefully they can take steps to ensure the safety of our players throughout the league is top of mind.
Nygaard echoed those comments in a 75-second pregame statement in which she offered her support for Griner and concern for everyone who made the trip to Indy. She also said Phoenix has already adjusted plans for future road trips, though she declined to provide specifics, citing league policy and team safety protocols.
The controversy stems from a 93-second video posted Sunday by Alex Stein, who yelled at Griner. He questioned Griner on topics ranging from whether she hated America to whether the exchange for a Russian prisoner was a fair deal to secure her release from Russia. Griner was released in December after being detained in Russia for nearly 10 months on drug charges.
She has not responded to Stein and has not spoken publicly about the incident at the airport since it happened.
“No one should be subject to targeted harassment,” Nygaard said. “I am grateful that our team and our staff are doing well physically and above all I am grateful that BG has been back here in the United States for 185 days now. If the fact that she’s home is driving some people crazy, I think that obviously says more about them than it does about her.
Griner has been warmly received by home and road crowds throughout the season. Last week she played twice in her home state of Texas, and Indianapolis was no different on Sunday as fans gave her the biggest ovation of any opponent during the player introductions.
Griner’s safety was a concern before the start of the season. Even then, league officials were discussing with Mercury officials and All-Star Center representatives how to protect Griner and his teammates in the wake of this high-profile case.
The league granted permission to Griner book their own charter flights. Charter flights have been added for all of the playoffs this year, along with a handful of back-to-back regular season games scheduled for these flights. WNBA teams have flown commercially during the regular season since the league’s inception in 1997.
But Saturday’s incident could force everyone in the league to reconsider.
“It’s obviously nothing that anyone wants to deal with, especially on a business trip for work,” Phoenix center Brianna Turner said, pointing out that the players were escorted to a more private room at the airport. ‘airport. “We represent the league, we represent the city of Phoenix, our organization and at times like this we don’t want to cause a big outrage. We don’t want to throw away phones or say certain things.
In the league, the reactions were almost unanimous.
Breanna Stewart, who serves on the players’ union executive committee, said everyone would support flying Griner privately.
“I think you know, there has to be extra precautionary measures and you know, I don’t think anyone is against BG having charter flights when they want to, so they can be themselves. yourself, traveling, being comfortable and safe.” Stewart said. “Because that’s the last thing we want, that’s what happened yesterday.”
Longtime friend and former teammate Emma Cannon made no secret of her disgust at what happened to Griner, Cannon’s son’s godfather.
“I’m not going to lie, it made me very angry,” the Fever striker said. “Then I saw a little snippet of the video, which was heartbreaking and then, that this is the first time she’s been flying in publicity with the team like that, it’s heartbreaking.”
AP basketball writer Doug Feinberg of New York contributed to this report.
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