Brittney Griner – Travel situation hit ‘rock bottom’ before changes

M.A. Voepel, ESPN.comJun 26, 2023, 07:57 PM ET

CloseM.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner said Monday she thought the travel situation with her and the Mercury got to “rock bottom” before it was adequately addressed by the WNBA.

Griner was speaking on a video call with media as the Mercury introduced interim coach Nikki Blue. She is replacing Vanessa Nygaard, who was fired Sunday after the Mercury’s 2-10 start. Griner addressed the coaching change but also was asked about the team’s travel.

That reopened two issues from earlier this month: why Griner was on a commercial flight on June 10, before which she was harassed by a YouTube personality at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport; and how she and the Mercury have traveled since then. Sources told ESPN on June 16 that in the wake of the incident, Griner had been approved to fly privately all year, which the league countered was already allowed. It’s still unclear how the entire team is traveling the remainder of the season.

“‘I’ll say this. I think we should have already had the option to use a different airline, a more private airline, charter flights,” Griner said, without specifying exactly what the Mercury are doing now. “It’s a shame that it had to get to rock bottom, because I feel like waiting for something to happen and then making a change … you don’t know what that ‘something’s’ going to be. We’ve all seen what can happen in this world. And when you play the ‘let’s-wait-and-see game,’ you’re really playing with fire. You’re playing with people’s lives.

“So I’m glad that they finally got it together — and, you know, are going to allow us to do this. It’s just a shame that it took so damn long, honestly.”

Editor’s Picks

1 Related

The Mercury’s travel situation has been shrouded in secrecy, which both the WNBA and the Mercury say is for safety reasons.

Griner was jailed in Russia on drug charges in February 2022 but was deemed by the State Department as wrongfully detained. After receiving a nine-year sentence, Griner was returned to the United States in a prisoner exchange in December 2022.

While many eagerly welcomed her home, Griner also has her critics. The league and the Mercury said before the 2023 WNBA season started that they had collaborated on a travel plan to best protect Griner. Then the incident happened at DFW before the Mercury and Griner traveled from Dallas to Indianapolis.

At that time, the league released a statement saying Griner had been approved to fly charter flights for her safety. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert reiterated that on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” saying the Mercury had been told they could do “anything you want to do” in terms of Griner’s travel because “we recognize this unique situation.”

However, a source told ESPN the league did not make that type of broad-stroked recommendation but instead approved a “hybrid plan” in early April. That plan allegedly included Griner flying two preapproved charter flights, with the league having the option to approve more charters based on need with the condition that only Griner — not the entire team — could fly on those planes.

The plan also allowed Griner and the Mercury to fly standard routes on JSX jet service when and where those were available, and Griner would fly first-class on commercial flights for all other trips. The league has been adamant, though, that from the start of the season, Griner was to be allowed as many charter flights as Phoenix thought she needed.

Thus, it’s still unclear if Griner being on the commercial flight was because the Mercury didn’t ask for a charter, didn’t deem it necessary or didn’t think it would be approved. JSX is a so-called public chartering service that has preset routes and schedules but does not travel to and from all WNBA cities. JSX operates out of private terminals, eliminating the need for teams to go through the airport and TSA security.

Tickets are fairly comparable to what commercial flights cost, and planes can hold up to 30 people, providing teams the option to buy out an entire flight. The WNBA allows teams to use JSX service where available.

However, JSX does have the ability to create flights outside its preset schedule, but those are generally more expensive. That’s what the WNBA prohibits, saying that kind of private chartering is not financially feasible for all 12 teams and thus is a competitive advantage issue. Travel regulations are codified in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, but that hasn’t stopped players, the players’ union, agents and even some owners from regularly bringing up the charter issue for the league as a whole.

Furthermore, sources told ESPN that since the incident at DFW, the Mercury can use JSX flights for the entire team — not just Griner — on these so-called “created” routes because of the special circumstances with Griner’s safety. However, neither the league nor the Mercury have confirmed if that is the case or offered any other travel details.

That said, Griner’s remarks on Monday about travel suggest the possibility the team is doing that.

As of Monday evening, the Mercury had not responded to ESPN’s questions about Griner’s comments. The WNBA referred to the previous statements the league made this month regarding the travel situation with Griner and the Mercury.

ESPN’s Alexa Philippou and Josh Weinfuss contributed to this report.

Source link

Leave a comment