The WNBA released a statement Saturday afternoon addressing an incident that took place at an airport in Dallas involving Brittney Griner and other Phoenix Mercury players. As Mercury players were walking through the airport, a Twitter personality approached Griner and her teammates. While recording, he proceeded to harass Griner with questions after being told to leave her alone.
According to a police report obtained by ESPN, the man who approached Griner was Alex Stein, a conservative media personality.
Stein allegedly pushed a Mercury security guard who was standing between him and Griner. Griner waited behind a gate area until police officers arrived at their terminal. The security guard said Stein "seemed aggressive and made some inappropriate comments," according to police. Stein did not get physical with Griner and the security guard did not press charges against him.
Shortly after the incident, Mercury forward Brianna Turner tweeted about the situation, saying that people were "following with cameras" and "saying wild remarks" as the team was at the airport following their game against the Dallas Wings Friday night.
The league released the following statement:
"As we gather additional information about today's incident at the Dallas Airport, it has come to our attention that this was orchestrated by a social media figure and provocateur. His actions were inappropriate and unfortunate."
"The safety of Brittney Griner and all WNBA players is our top priority. 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."
WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson said that the Griner incident occurred while players were walking to get food in the terminal.
After news of the incident circulated online, the players union released a statement urging for the league to consider chartered flights for every team to keep players safe from situations like this.
"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."
Turner was one of many players to echo those thoughts on her own Twitter feed, writing "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."
Griner's agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, also issued a statement via Twitter:
Brittney Griner and the @WNBA players are leaders who inspire hope for a better, more inclusive and less divided America. They are celebrated for the ways their activism inspires positive change. In doing that, they also become targets for hate, threats and violence and today's incident is a clear reminder of that. We cannot celebrate these women and their leadership without also protecting them. It's past time for charters and enhanced security measures for all players. #WeAreBG
A Wall Street Journal report on Sunday shed more light on the apparent dispute between the Mercury and the league over whether charter flights were approved for the team this season.
The WNBA clarified in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that the league said all flights for Griner in 2023 could be charter. "We informed the Phoenix Mercury earlier this year to move ahead with any arrangements they felt were appropriate and needed including charter flights," the statement said.
However, a person familiar with the Mercury said the league didn't approve charter flights for Griner for the entire 2023 season.
Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner's agent, indicated that Griner and her teammates weren't flying commercial by choice. "They were there and faced harassment in the terminal because of a league plan that included a mix of charter and a select number of commercial flights with security protocols that failed."
In the past, the league has argued that chartered flights create an unfair competitive advantage for teams that cannot afford to pay for them over the course of a full season, and the New York Liberty were fined $500,000 prior to last season for chartering flights for road games during the 2021 season.
However, ahead of this season the league agreed to allow charter flights for regular-season games where teams were playing on back-to-back nights. That's in addition to the already approved chartered flights for all WNBA playoff games, the WNBA Commissioner's Cup Championship Game, and select games during the regular season.