Elite-level athletes become public figures when they compete in front of thousands of fans and perhaps millions more on a broadcast. These may be baseball players with nine-figure contracts, college quarterbacks with NIL deals, Olympic curling medalists, or others. Regardless of the sport, people (fans or others with their own agenda) sometimes come at these athletes, getting in their faces, and the incidents can be pretty scary.
WNBA star Brittney Griner was traveling through the Dallas airport with her team, the Phoenix Mercury, on June 3 when an attention-seeking YouTuber confronted Griner while recording a video, nonsensically asking her if she “still wants to boycott America,” The attention-seeking YouTuber was told to “stop being weird,” and in a clearly planned and juvenile response, responded by falsely claiming that she “hates America.”
Griner always has a security detail with her, and it is clear that she’s a target. Unfortunately, while the airport police responded to the incident, the provocateur got away and posted a 90-second video (that we will not link to) with footage of the encounter.
The WNBA called the encounter “inappropriate and unfortunate” in a statement. A spokesperson for the players association also released a statement that, in part, read:
“What BG [Griner] and all of her PHX teammates experienced today was 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 and health safety, and until the league and teams take this issue seriously, situations like this will continue to occur.”
They deserve to be safe
Athletes are used to a certain level of inappropriate behavior from fans at games — it is part of their charged environment. Still, they should be able to go about their daily lives with a certain amount of safety. Unfortunately, in today’s increasingly polarized society, the WNBA and other leagues can no longer hope that all members of public society will act decently. Private jets and more security are a small price to pay if it gives athletes (and their families) greater peace of mind.