Brittney Griner, the WNBA star who was freed from Russia late last year after being wrongfully detained, was harassed Saturday by a man described as a social media “provocateur” at a Dallas airport.
A source familiar with the incident told CNN that around 9:30 am CT, Griner was at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport traveling with Phoenix Mercury teammates on their way to a game.
Griner was confronted by the man who was yelling at her about “the Merchant of Death.” The confrontation got so heated that the man was tackled, and law enforcement was involved, according to the source.
CNN has reached out to local law enforcement and the DFW airport about the incident.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist was released in a prisoner swap that involved Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout – nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” – after spending nearly 300 days in Russian custody. The prisoner exchange prompted criticism from some Republicans, who accused the Biden administration of releasing a dangerous prisoner back to Russia, CNN previously reported.
The WNBA said in a statement the encounter was “orchestrated by a social media figure and provocateur. His actions were inappropriate and unfortunate.”
Before the season began, the WNBA said it worked with Phoenix Mercury and Griner “to ensure her safety during her travel, which included charter flights for WNBA games and assigned security personnel with her at all times.” It’s not clear whether Griner was traveling on a charter flight on Saturday when the incident took place.
“We remain steadfastly committed to the highest standards of security for players,” the statement reads.
The Phoenix Mercury said in a statement that the team is “reviewing the incident.”
“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,” the statement said.
“No one, regardless of identity, should ever fear for their safety. We will be coordinating with the WNBA on next steps,” it continued.
Griner’s teammate, Brianna Turner, posted to Twitter on Saturday, saying, “Player safety while traveling should be at the forefront. 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.”
Unlike in the NBA, WNBA teams are not permitted to use charter planes for travel, CNN previously reported.
In April, the WNBA announced the league would expand its charter flights program for all postseason games and select regular season games where teams have back-to-back games on the schedule.
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a post on Twitter that Griner and WNBA players “are leaders who inspire hope for a better, more inclusive and less divided America.”
“They are celebrated for the ways their activism inspires positive change. In doing that, they also become targets for hate, threats and violence,” Colas said. “We cannot celebrate these women and their leadership without also protecting them. It’s past time for charters and enhanced security measures for all players.”
The union representing WNBA players also released a statement on Twitter in response to the incident, saying in part: “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.”