- WNBA free agency is underway, as teams receive the go-ahead to recruit superstars starting this weekend.
- Reportedly, top free agent Brenna Stewart has made charter flights a major issue for the teams she courts.
- The league’s CBA does not cover private flights, but Brittney Griner’s return could force policy changes.
Charter flights—or rather, the lack thereof—have been at the center of several recent disputes between the WNBA and its players.
Teams have long traveled from game to game on commercial flights, a reality that has led to countless terrifying flights and endless hours crammed into a coach for the world’s best basketball players each season. But now, after several years of stalemate, the league may finally have made progress on the issue thanks to an unexpected catalyst: Brittney Grinier.
“BG’s return makes the conversation about charters even more intense,” Erin Kane, an Excel sports management agent who represents several WNBA All-Stars, tells Insider. “It has always been a player health and safety issue. BG mode takes it to another level.
“The truth is, this has been a real pain point for a long time,” she added.
The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury star is known to be spending the better part of 2022 Unjustly detained in Russia After, after Carry vape pens that contain hemp oil in the city. she He came home in December After President Joe Biden I agreed to exchange prisoners securing her release, and shortly thereafter, Griner confirmed her Intent to return to the WNBA for the 2023 season.
Facilitating Griner’s return would contradict the league’s policy on charter flights
Griner’s return to the league may not be as simple as lacing her size 17 sneakers and hitting the hardwood: according to report from ESPN’s Ramona ShelburneGreener’s growing security concerns have led many to speculate around the league that she — and possibly her Mercury teammates — will need to travel privately to and from games.
Although she is technically a free agent, Greiner has publicly voiced her Desire to re-sign with Phoenix. Both sides need to wait until February to make her official return to Mercury, but in the meantime, Phoenix’s top brass are taking every possible measure to ensure that Griner doesn’t have to put herself in harm’s way.
“Her fame has definitely changed, the reasons for that have changed, and we’re all very aware of some of the things that have been said about her,” Mercury President Vince Kozar told Insider. “We’re very aware of the way she used her comeback to try to further polarize people…and we understand that people did it through the lens of BG’s identity, which is as a woman, she’s a black woman, and she’s as a queer black woman.
He continued, “None of this is lost on us, and we understand that oftentimes words can be a precursor to violence.” “We take it all incredibly seriously. We understand and everyone around her knows that it is our shared responsibility to ensure that we approach this with the necessary perspective and gravitas that it requires.
“It’s safe to say that given all of these things, her safety while we’re traveling is a top priority,” Kozar added.
But if the safest course of action involves Griner traveling privately to games, the WNBA faces a major dilemma. While the league is committed to ensuring the safety of the superstar while reintegrating with her, she must rely on strict travel policies.
the 2020 WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement Requires that “all air travel is provided by [teams]”Premium economy class (or similar enhanced coach fare)” seats are included for players, but do not count accommodations outside of commercial flights. As such, the WNBA has prohibited individual franchises from leasing flights in the past for fear of disrupting league parity, and has He even went so far as to penalize the teams that do not comply.
Just last year, the league fined the New York Liberty a historic $500,000 after billionaire franchise owner Joe Tsai privately flew his team during the second half of the season. And as recently as last summer, WNBA commissioner Kathy Engelbert said The estimated $20+ million price tag for the charter flights could “endanger the league’s financial health”.
“The WNBA charter and ban has been discussed primarily as a ‘competitive advantage,’ yet most other free agency considerations are not regulated by this measure,” Executive Vice President Wasserman Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who represents Griner as well as countless other WNBA stars eminent, said the insider. “Even in the NBA, there is a wide range of travel quality between team-owned aircraft versus lease program subscribers.
“So when you zoom out, it’s hard to follow the logic,” she added.
But Griner’s position, and the resulting concerns about fairness across the league, may provide the impetus the league needs to reconsider what Colas calls “a reactionary approach to the WNBA as a business.”
Breanna Stewart is using her free agency insanity to highlight the WNBA’s travel woes
One of the best free agents in the league – which Kulas also represents – took the case into her own hands. Breanna Stewart, a four-time first-team All-WNBA player is widely considered to be One of the greatest talents the league has ever seenyou list flights publicly in the agency’s looming, closely watched free decision.
In addition to its former franchise — the Seattle Storm — two-time WNBA champion and two-time Finals champion, the MVP is considering Liberty, the Minnesota Lynx, and the Washington Mystics as potential landing sites. Each of these teams is owned by a billionaire who can undoubtedly afford the hefty price tag required to charter a private jet for the season.
Both Liberty and Lynx rulers have equal access Come out publicly in support of charter flights league-position certainly not wasted on Stewart. Many additional franchisees About the WNBA they came to similar conclusions, though some expressed their support louder than others.
“Most owners and players are in sync and want to be empowered to do what’s right for them,” said Colas, adding, “Owners who don’t want to invest shouldn’t get in the way of the league with the owners, potential owners, and players who they are.”
But enabling each team to travel as they see fit would require a vote from the WNBA Board of Governors, and as recently as September 2021, such a measure did not have majority support. Players got angry After the Howard Migdal report revealed this The owners rejected a plan proposed by Tsai to cover the charter flights The league crossed the line for three full years out of fear that the athletes would “get used to” the treatment.
The WNBA denies such a vote ever took place:
“At no time was New York Liberty proposing to the WNBA Board of Governors to consider offering three-year charter flights to WNBA teams,” the league’s statement read. “It was agreed that Liberty would explore opportunities related to charter flights and bring them to the board. So far, that hasn’t happened.”
Sports Illustrated, which originally outlet The report was releasedHe insists that they “confirmed this happened from a source who overheard the exchange first hand”.
After only a year and a half later, there is reason to believe the tide is turning in the players’ favor
Between the court of public opinion, the Griner’s growing security needs, the Stewart free agency lottery, and the players’ overwhelming demands for a change, the team owners face more pressure than ever to support the charter flight’s cause.
Stewart is even willing to support the campaign herself. The 2018 MVP took to Twitter to announce that she’s willing to help “support charter travel for the entirety of the WNBA” by offering “NIL, posts + hours of production.”
“Who is with me?” she added.
—Branna Stewart (@breannastewart) January 22, 2023
Lots of superstars jumped in to join. Several current WNBA players, including Nneka, Chiney Ogwumike, Elena Delle Donne, Napheesa Collier, Alysha Clark, Erica Wheeler, Kahleah Copper, and Natalie Achonwa, offered their support in the comments.
NBA All-Star Ja Morant, UConn Huskies star Paige Bueckers, and retired WNBA great Sue Bird all shared messages of encouragement, too.
The drill left no doubt that other players were willing to follow Stewart’s lead, posing a major threat to the team’s owners; If you don’t build it, they won’t come.
Regardless of whether the WNBA comes to an agreement on charters in the near future, the league’s stars — including Stewart, who is eligible to sign with a team starting Feb. 1 — have every incentive to sign with franchises that are invested in improving their individual teams and the league as a whole.
“Every player wants to play for an organization that treats them well; it’s that simple,” Keane said. “And let’s be clear that most of what players ask for, including charter travel, are things that improve the quality of play and the product the league can put on the field every night.
“These women are the best in the world,” she added. “They should be treated this way. It should change.”