2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart has made it known in the past the league needs to improve the conditions the players compete under in order to maximize the full potential of its product. She took another step Sunday afternoon to make that happen after tweeting out a plea to the rest of the world to join her in an attempt to fund charted air travel for WNBA players in 2023.
Stewart said she would use the money she makes from her NIL (name, image and likeness) deals to help fly players out in a way that prioritizes their safety.
“I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA. I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hrs to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, which ultimately results in a better product. Who’s with me?”
The issue of air travel has been prominent in the WNBA for years. Last season, as different variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that cause COVID-19, spread throughout the world, WNBA players flew commercially and expressed their discomfort flying with people who wouldn’t wear masks on planes. Flight delays have been a consistent issue as well, as it has become a normal practice for WNBA teams to wait extended time at airports due to postponements. Last year, the Chicago Sky had to fly in the day of a game against the Liberty to compete after delays stopped the team from traveling the day before.
The WNBA pushed back at the notion chartering teams for an entire season is an option that is available at this time. In a statement to M.A. Voepel of ESPN, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, “We’ve asked all the major airlines. We’ve asked charter companies. I’ve been working on this since the moment I came into the league. Without sponsors stepping up, it’s just not in the cards right now.
“If we could get it sponsored or funded in some way … I’m all ears. I’ve gotten lots of calls over the past year about this since we’ve been back in our 12 markets. Then when people price it out… you never hear from them again.”
Despite Engelbert’s statement, multiple players commented underneath Stewart’s Twitter post about funding chartered air travel, something that is being prioritized by Stewart in her free agency decision, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. Stars of the likes of Kaheah Copper, Nneka Ogwumike, Napheesa Collier and Erica Wheeler all showed support of the plan along with recently retired Sue Bird and Memphis Grizzlies’ point guard Ja Morant.