Player safety has been called into question after known political agitator Alex Stein heckled Brittney Griner about her prisoner swap trade at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday (June 10). Griner and her team were in town after competing against the Dallas Wings on Friday (June 9).
As previously reported, the 6’9″ center was released from a Russian detention center in December after being in custody for 10 months in connection with a drug charge. Her freedom was negotiated in a prisoner swap for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the Merchant of Death. Right-wing personality Stein approached Griner with his phone recording as he fired off questions about the exchange and her patriotism.
“BG, was that a fair trade for the Merchant of Death? I know you kill it on the court, but he kills in real life. Is it true you had sex with Vladimir Putin to get released from Russia, Britt? Britt? Is it true you had to? What about his wife? Hey Brit, do you still wanna boycott America, Brittney?” he asked.
When a teammate yelled out that Stein was weird, he responded, “…She hates America.” Despite one of the team’s male security escort’s efforts to create distance between the controversial Blaze Media TV host and players, Stein continued on with his tirade. “Britt, you scared to talk to me? Britt, you’re scared. The Merchant of Death, Britt. You should be ashamed of yourself … Britt, do you hate America? … Brittney, was it a fair trade?” he said, steadily following them to their gate, where they were to board a commercial flight. At no point did Griner have any contact with him. Stein uploaded the entire exchange to YouTube.
The league’s travel protocol allowed for chartered flights for WNBA finals, the Commissioner’s Cup Championship, and specific regular-season games. However, in April, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that teams will be chartered for all 2023 season games that are played back-to-back, as well as the playoffs. Players have spoken out in the past about the toll flying commercial has on their overall well-being. Following Griner’s airport ordeal, the Players Association said it was even more evident that “charter travel is not a ‘competitive advantage’ issue.”
“What GB and all of her PHX teammates experienced today was a calculated confrontation that left them feeling 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,” continued their statement. “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 Phoenix Mercury also released a statement saying that the incident is being reviewed and that next steps will be coordinated with the WNBA. “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,” they said.
The league’s remarks regarding the matter read, “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.”
Neither Griner nor her teammates have issued public commentary about their encounter with Stein.
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