INDIANAPOLIS – Before approaching the court on Sunday, Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard had a single objective.
She wants the WNBA to take further precautions to ensure the safety and security of her team’s traveling groups.
The two coaches and a few players advised adding extra charter flights to help avoid any such encounters with strangers the day after Mercury center Brittney Griner was challenged by a “provocateur” at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
“We will ensure that our players and our organization and our staff are safe,” she said. ”We will be making (travel) adjustments that maybe should have happened before, but right now we’re going to prioritize the safety of our players and we’ve seen that the organization has supported us.”
Brittney Griner didn’t impact
Griner’s performance was unaffected by the incident in any case. In the Mercury’s lone victory of the season, an 85-82 triumph, she set a season best with 29 points and pulled down six rebounds.
After the initial tour to each city, Griner generally speaks to the media, but Mercury executives opted not to do so on Sunday.
But it’s obvious that the accident had an effect on Phoenix. Griner was given the simple pregame instruction to “breathe” by veteran player Diana Taurasi, who also pleaded with the league to not dismiss it.
“It’s unnerving to be in a situation like that and unfortunately, it was literally the first time we were in public together,” said Taurasi. “That can’t happen for our players or coaches. Basketball is secondary to everyone’s safety; everything else is more important. People have families and children, so forcing them into that circumstance is incredibly insulting not just to BG but also to our club and the league. So hopefully they can take steps into making sure the security of our players throughout the league is at the forefront.”
In a 75-second pregame address, Nygaard repeated those remarks and expressed worry for everyone who made the trip to Indianapolis as well as support for Griner. She said that Phoenix has already changed its preparations for upcoming road trips, but she would not go into further detail, citing league regulations and club safety protocols.
The controversy started after Alex Stein released a 93-second video on Sunday in which he was shouting at Griner. He questioned Griner on a variety of subjects, such as whether she detested America and if the exchange of a Russian prisoner for her freedom from Russia was a just transaction. Griner was arrested in Russia for over ten months on drug-related accusations before being freed in December.
She didn’t react to Stein and hasn’t spoken about the airport incident in public since it happened, though she is anticipated to talk to media after Sunday’s game.
“No one should be a victim of targeted harassment,” Nygaard said. “I’m grateful that our team and our staff are physically well and most of all I’m grateful that BG has been back here in the United States for 185 days now. If her being home makes some people mad, I think that obviously says more about them than it does about her.”
Griner has enjoyed a season of enthusiastic support from spectators both at home and away. She played twice in her home state of Texas this past week, and Sunday in Indianapolis was no different, as the crowd booed her the hardest of any opponent during player introductions.
Since before the start of the season, Griner’s security has been a concern. Even at that time, league officials were consulting with Mercury representatives and the All-Star center’s management about how to safeguard Griner and her teammates in the wake of the widely reported incident.
Griner was given authorization by the league to arrange her own charter planes. This year, charter planes have been added for all of the postseason games as well as a few back-to-back regular season games. Since the WNBA’s debut in 1997, teams have flown commercially during the regular season.
But the situation on Saturday could make everyone in the league rethink the subject.
“That’s obviously nothing no one wants to deal with, especially on a business trip for work,” Brianna Turner said, noting the players were escorted to a more private room in the airport. “We’re representing the league, we’re representing the city of Phoenix, our organization and in times like that we don’t want to cause a big scene. We don’t want to like throw phones or say some things.”
Nearly everyone in the league reacted in the same way.
Everyone would support Griner flying privately, said to players’ union executive committee member Breanna Stewart.
“I think that you know, that there needs to be extra precautionary measures taken and you know, I don’t think anyone is against BG having charter flights whenever she wants, so that she can be herself and travel and be comfortable and be safe,” Stewart said. “Because that’s the last thing we want is what happened yesterday.”
Emma Cannon, Griner’s godparent and a longtime friend and teammate, could not hold back her horror at what happened to Griner.
“I’m not going to lie, that made me very angry,” the Fever forward said. “Then I saw a little snippet of the video, which was upsetting and then for that to be her first time flying commercial with the team like that, it’s upsetting.”
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