Less than a week after tipping off its 2022 season, the WNBA has seen a number of its stars sidelined due to league health and safety protocols.
And players are blaming the league’s travel policies for missing games.
WNBA teams fly commercial for games, necessarily increasing players’ exposure to COVID-19. And now that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has loosened restrictions and lifted mask mandates for flights, anyone who flies commercial is at an even higher risk of contracting the virus from their fellow passengers or flight crew.
After Breanna Stewart and Seattle Storm teammate Epiphanny Prince were ruled out of Wednesday night’s matchup against the Phoenix Mercury due to positive COVID-19 tests, the 2018 WNBA MVP and three-time All-Star took to Twitter to share her thoughts.
“Fly commercial they say…” she wrote above the team’s injury report.
—Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) May 12, 2022
Without its first- and third-leading scorers in Stewart and Prince, respectively, Seattle suffered a 20-point blowout on the road against the Phoenix Mercury. Widely thought to be a title contender, the Storm now own a 1-2 record.
But Seattle isn’t the only team struggling with Week 1 absences related to COVID-19. The Washington Mystics played without point guard Natasha Cloud in their blockbuster matchup against the Las Vegas Aces Tuesday night.
Cloud, who has been red-hot to start the year, spoke out about flying commercial even before she was sidelined due to health and safety protocols. She noted that players are still expected to travel and try to maintain “a Covid free season….while being surrounded by random people not wearing mask[s].”
—Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) April 23, 2022
Once she learned she’d be out for the game, Cloud took to Twitter once more:
“Shoutout to the @WNBA for flying us commercial during a pandemic,” she wrote. “(And no mask mandates) Go mystics 🗣.”
—Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) May 10, 2022
COVID-19 just adds another layer to the WNBA’s preexisting travel woes, which have long been a prime issue for players, as long trips, connecting flights, delays, and cancellations have derailed games in recent years. But last season, when billionaire New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai took matters into his own hands by flying his players private, the WNBA slapped the Liberty with a hefty fine and even threatened to discontinue the franchise altogether.
Whether the league will take action now that the pandemic is more overtly threatening the quality of its product and the outcomes on the court still remains to be seen. A WNBA spokesperson declined to comment on the substance of Stewart’s and Cloud’s tweets, but noted that Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has spoken publicly about the prohibitive cost of charter flights for the league.
But if we know one thing, it’s that the players refuse to be quiet about the issue at hand:
—Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) May 12, 2022
The Seattle Storm declined to comment on Stewart’s tweet and the league’s health and safety protocols. The Washington Mystics did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.