In a contentious battle against the Dallas Wings on her bobblehead night at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Brittney Griner and two of her Mercury teammates, plus three Wings players, were ejected following an on-court scuffle. Griner and Wings players Kristine Anigwe and Kayla Thornton were tossed for the actual fight. Briann January and Diana Taurasi (who was inactive) were tossed for leaving the Phoenix bench and Kaela Davis was tossed for leaving the Dallas bench.
Griner did not speak to the media after the game, but Taurasi told reporters:
Today I went on the court to make sure my teammate didn’t get jumped. She got punched in the face, and then someone ran on her back and threw punches at her face. I would do that 100 times out of 100 times.
As Griner was ushered from the court, the left side of her face appeared red, as if she had been hit in the face as Taurasi indicated. But almost more unsettling than last night’s incident is the media coverage that, thus far, has followed.
Dorothy J. Gentry, who covers the Dallas Wings for The Athletic WNBA, told “All In” podcast recently that the only time she has seen mainstream media seize on the Wings was following Liz Cambage’s history-making 53-point performance in 2018. She said national broadcast media was neither in Dallas before Cambage’s historic moment nor following the single-day coverage after it. This underscores the trend that WNBA players must have extraordinary, if not extreme, on-court performances to draw the national media’s gaze.
But mainstream media entities seem more willing to show interest in the league when there’s a scandal.
When Griner and Glory Johnson were arrested for domestic violence in 2015, it drew national media attention. When Los Angeles Sparks guard Riquna Williams was suspended for 10 games following a a domestic violence incident involving a gun, CNN reported on it. When Natasha Howard denied her now-estranged wife’s domestic violence allegations, USA Today covered it. And Saturday night’s debacle was no different.
On Sunday morning, Gwendolyn Loyd, mother of Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd, tweeted her disdain for coverage of the incident by Good Morning America. But Loyd is not calling for suppression of less-pleasing storylines; she is calling for coverage of the WNBA to be balanced and complete.
Gwendolyn Loyd wrote:
I wake up this morning and see our WNBA players on Good Morn[ing] America fighting, with national coverage. Now when I ask them to cover our ladies for winning the championship last year [the Seattle Storm in 2018], I got one line! Ironic they would cover a fight ...
It also can be argued that some of the same women involved in last night’s altercation — Griner and Taurasi — should have received mainstream media attention after winning the FIBA World Cup gold medal last year with the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. The win qualified the United States for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Without equivocation, on-court fights and off-court conduct issues are not a good look for the WNBA. But those incidents do not make up even one-fourth of what the league is about, with many stories of triumph and perseverance persistently overlooked by mainstream entities. If, for example, Good Morning America had invited All-Star Game MVP Erica Wheeler on the show to discuss her “undrafted to unforgettable” feats, it is unlikely that “Mama Loyd” and others would take issue with the show also covering the punches thrown in last night’s contest.
Full coverage, the good with the bad, is what the fans want and what the league and players deserve. To showcase the bad without ever highlighting the good is simply unfair.