Brittney Griner airport incident, explained: WNBA issues statement after Mercury star, teammates harassed in staged confrontation

This story has been updated from a previous version.

Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury were subjected to harassment by a “social media figure” on Saturday.

The incident occurred as the Mercury were traveling to Indianapolis from an airport in Dallas after taking on the Dallas Wings on Friday. News of the staged confrontation first surfaced Saturday morning as Mercury forward Brianna Turner took to Twitter to express her concerns of her and her teammates’ safety while traveling.

“Player safety while traveling should be at the forefront,” Turner tweeted. “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.”

Several current and former WNBA players quoted Turner’s tweet, including New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart, Atlanta Dream executive Renee Montgomery and Las Vegas Aces guard Sydney Colson, each of whom pointed out WNBA teams’ need for more security while traveling.

MORE: Timeline of Brittney Griner’s arrest, detainment in Russia

Here’s everything you need to know about the incident:

Brittney Griner airport harassment incident, explained

Right-wing YouTube personality Alex Stein — who has interrupted government meetings and confronted politicians — harassed Griner and her Mercury teammates in a planned confrontation as they walked through the concourse in the the Dallas airport.

Stein videoed himself as he accosted Griner about her wrongful detainment in Russia and eventual prisoner exchange involving Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout that allowed her to return home.

“Do you still want to boycott America, Brittney?” Stein said in a snippet of the video he shared. Those who recognized Stein’s intentions to incite a disturbance called him “weird” and urged him to stop the harassment.

Stein replied that Griner “hates America,” most likely a reference to her stance on the playing of the national anthem ahead of WNBA games. He shared a snippet of the confrontation in response to a statement from the WNBA that called Stein’s actions “inappropriate and unfortunate.”

According to a police report obtained by ESPN, officers responded to the disturbance at roughly 9:38 a.m. local time after Stein “seemed aggressive and made some inappropriate comments” to Griner. The YouTube personality never made contact with the WNBA player, though he did push a security guard who stayed between them.

The report details the guard eventually pushed Stein against a wall while Griner waited behind a gate until officers arrived. The security guard told police Stein got physical with him, but declined to press charges.

The Mercury eventually were allowed to stay in a customer experience office as they waited to board their flight. They did so without incident at 10:20 a.m. Airport officers were unable to locate Stein in the area, nor did officials find a passenger under that name flying at the airport.

MORE: Brittney Griner anthem protests, revisited

WNBA statement

The WNBA issued the following statement regarding the incident:

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.

The WNBA on Sunday issued another statement on Sunday after representatives from the Mercury and WNBPA both claimed Phoenix had not been allowed to charter flights. The league responded that they had given the Mercury permission to do so given Griner’s “special situation.”

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

WNBPA statement

The WNBPA issued the following statement, calling for chartered travel for all teams to ensure player safety:

As we continue to hear from our members throughout the start of the season and particularly today with the situation involving the Phoenix Mercury at the Dallas airport, we are quite clear that the matter of charter travel is NOT a ‘competitive advantage’ issue. We cannot help but wonder if the league and teams preclude more reasonable and flexible rules regarding charter travel in 2023 in order to seek leverage on this issue at the bargaining table.

What BG and all of her (Phoenix) 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.

The WNBA also told ESPN on Sunday there may have been some uncertainty about whether the team was allowed to pay for all the chartered flights for the season.

Phoenix Mercury statement

The Mercury organization issued the following statement, adding that they will begin coordinating the next steps with the WNBA:

We are reviewing the incident that took place today at the Dallas airport. The health and well-being of our players and staff are our top priority and we will always take every step within our power to protect player safety.

We are committed to our support of BG and advocating for all American hostages abroad. We will continue our support of marginalized communities and fighting the kind of hate that targeted us today. No one, regardless of identity, should ever fear for their safety. We will be coordinating with the WNBA on next steps.

On Sunday, Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters her team followed travel guidelines from the WNBA, which does not allow for chartered flights; the league considers it expensive and an unfair advantage over other teams that fly commercial.

“I would say yesterday was a huge disappointment,” Turner said when asked whether the league failed to adequately protect Griner and the team. “I mean, I don’t blame the league. Like obviously, no one could have predicted this, but at the same time, I think more measures could have been in place. Absolutely.

“Phoenix as an organization, we follow the rules,” Nygaard said. “We were given guidelines of travel, and we followed the guidelines established by the league, which we always do.”

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