UPDATE: On Friday at 7:15 p.m. ET, the WNBA announced through a press release to the media that the Aces-Mystics game, originally scheduled for 7 p.m., had been cancelled.
Hours in an airport terminal due to flight delays will leave even the most experienced fliers bedraggled. By the time they arrive at their destination, they will need to rest before they can have fun.
But when the flight is for business rather than pleasure, things become even trickier. With no time for rest and recovery — a chance for the body to adjust to the new time zone — it is inevitable that performance will be compromised. More serious than the outcome of a game for athletes traveling for business is the higher risk of injury caused by delayed reaction times.
On Thursday, after the Washington, DC-bound Las Vegas Aces had spent six hours in an airport due to delays, A’ja Wilson began tweeting her concerns:
Been at the airport for 6 hours...flight cancelled ...woo chile this flying commercial is something else— A'ja Wilson (@_ajawilson22) August 3, 2018
Even without losing an entire night’s sleep, a “sleep debt,” accumulated loss of sleep over time, can have catastrophic results. If ever there was a sport where the ability to react quickly made a difference in performance it is basketball. Dozens and dozens of times per game, players are required to make split-second decisions which, really, amount to split-second reactions involving catching, dribbling, passing, crossing over, lane-cutting, blocking and stepping back. And players must do this with confidence while also taking care to avoid the kinds of awkward movements that can lead to collisions, twisted knees and turned ankles.
Elite athletes do this so frequently that it becomes something no one thinks about — until an awkward movement happens, resulting in injury. Too often, serious, season-ending injuries of WNBA players seem to occur on the road following commercial flights. Here is what happened with three players who saw the 2018 WNBA season end early for them:
Jamierra Faulkner, Chicago Sky
Faulkner last played on July 3 against the Wings in Dallas. She left the game with a knee injury and later revealed on Twitter that she was done for season. Prior to that game, the Sky had played on June 29 against the Liberty in New York and on July 1 at home against the Liberty.
Sancho Lyttle, Phoenix Mercury
Lyttle last played on June 30 against the Mystics in Washington, DC during which her knee buckled without contact and she had to be helped off the court. The injury was diagnosed as a torn ACL. Prior to that game, the Mercury had been on an extensive road trip that took them from Phoenix to Chicago (June 24), New York (June 26), Indiana (June 29) and Washington, DC (June 30). For the Mercury, a back-to-back played across time zones for the last game of a week-long road trip proved to be disastrous for a key player and the team, as their season has been on the skids ever since Lyttle’s injury.
Karima Christmas-Kelly, Dallas Wings
Christmas-Kelly last played on June 2 at home against Seattle. She suffered a knee injury in that game that later required surgery. Prior to that game, the Wings had played in New York on May 29, lessening the likelihood that travel was a factor in her injury. (My further reporting on the link between travel and injuries to NBA players can be found here.)
And the comments kept coming ...
Player Health is the most important thing. Our schedule is already so compact this year. Now you want us to travel all night with a stop and compete? #notToday #notEver— Kayla McBride (@kaymac_2123) August 3, 2018
A 2017 study of Major League Baseball players showed that the most severe jet-lag effects appeared “after eastward but not westward travel,” supporting the idea that “a failure of circadian clock to synchronize to the environmental light-dark cycles” is to blame. Although less frequent, “some isolated effects of westward travel” were revealed in the study as well.
And it has become a common understanding that jet lag and shift work can cause serious physical and mental health issues, even if it’s just an hour of sleep lost or gained due to “springing forward” or “falling back,” as Daylight Savings times requires most Americans to do. In studies, the one-hour adjustment to the clock has been determined to cause “more frequent traffic accidents and workplace injuries” and even “greater risk for myocardial infarction in heart patients” during the week following the shift to or from Daylight Savings time.
With further updates provided ...
STILL. HERE. https://t.co/PYYYWbPPSm— A'ja Wilson (@_ajawilson22) August 3, 2018
It is the awareness of the dangers caused by sleep deficits, no matter the cause, that forced several industries to implement strict regulations on employees carrying out job duties that impact the safety and well-being of the public, such as with airline pilots and long-distance truck drivers.
Jet lag causes feelings of disorientation, fogginess and sleepiness, which is how no one wants a pilot or long-haul trucker to ever feel. Suffering from “truck driver fatigue,” Kevin Roper caused a traffic accident that left comedian Tracy Morgan comatose for two weeks and with lasting injuries, and the friend he was travelling with, James McNair, dead. And the Colgan Air crash in 2009 that killed 50 people in Buffalo, NY prompted the FAA to implement stricter guidelines on pilot sleep.
And this really profound plea ...
We can’t control the weather, but league can control whether or not player health will be put at risk tomorrow. Delays, cancelations & now taking a red-eye to get to DC @ 1pm. Aces will have been traveling for 24 hrs by the time we land. It takes less time to get to Sydney, AUS— Carolyn Swords (@CarolynSwords) August 3, 2018
Most who have experienced being “asleep on their feet” from working long hours, working second- or third-shift or traveling can attest to an increase in freak, random accidents: stubbed toes, trips and falls, fingers slammed in car doors, etc. Thus, being “asleep on one’s feet” but also required to run and jump with those feet seems to be a recipe for disaster, mainly in the form of player injury, with wins and losses a distant second on the list of concerns.
And this one, well into the next morning ...
ELEVEN HOURS to tip-off, 2.5 hrs til Flight departs Dallas for DC #overbooked pic.twitter.com/t1TDhS1xCJ— Carolyn Swords (@CarolynSwords) August 3, 2018
If ever there was a situation that warranted rescheduling the game to a different day, this one is it. But with just a few weeks left in an already-compressed season, when could such a rescheduled game take place?
Well, rescheduling the day was not in the league’s plans, but the WNBA changed tipoff from 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET, which the players themselves will likely find laughable and unacceptable given the severity of the travel woes the Aces experienced getting from Las Vegas to the nation’s capital.
The Aces, two games below .500 and ninth in the standings, will do everything they can to claw their way into the last playoff spot. This is, after all, what professionals do. But their efforts have been compromised by the perils of commercial air travel and, win or lose against the Mystics, it seems the most important goal should be to escape unscathed, without injury.
Last weekend, the world witnessed historic WNBA greatness in the form of the All-Star Game, complete with a forward-thinking introduction video about equality and progress. Six days later, star players are shown sleeping on uncomfortable airport chairs due to flight woes, yet expected to complete at the highest level in mere hours — after disrupted sleep and likely no practice.
As written earlier this week, it is time to move equality from the realm of inspiration and into the sphere of practice. The world is watching, WNBA, because fans never want to see this happen again.
Last night in the league
Lynx lost on the road against insistent Sparks and Liz Cambage’s 37 points were not enough to prevent a Feverish upset of the Dallas Wings. Here’s the recap from Albert Lee.
Next up on the court
Three games are on the schedule for Friday, including two monster matchups that will be broadcast live on NBA TV.
Stay tuned for previews!
Drink up, link lush!
It seems fitting to drop the “g” from Liz Cambage’s name and just go with Liz Cambae.
The @DallasWings' @ecambage continues to make #WNBA history! #WatchMeWork pic.twitter.com/iaY4o5vRVE— WNBA (@WNBA) August 3, 2018
How can anyone not be enamored with a woman who does this kind of work on the court and is so very outspoken off of it?!
Liz Cambage has been in trouble with the refs all season, only to have her most recent technical foul rescinded and her suspension lifted following measures by the league to improve the officiating. Cambage has been outspoken about everything this season, including the refereeing, accusing the refs of trying to soften the game and labeling their calls “wack” and “terrible.” A closer look at the officiating indicated an uptick in the number of technicals being called, proving that claims by Cambage and others were valid.
- While waiting in the airport, a few Las Vegas players used the time to register to vote.
- Speaking of jets again now, does Skylar Diggins-Smith get to fly in the PUMA jet? It seems fitting that a Wings star would get his privilege.
- Finally, a reporter gets it right: Skylar Diggins-Smith was the first basketball player to sign with PUMA in more than 20 years.
- Two-time and reigning Player of the Week Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream spoke to the Around the Rim podcast about her season and the All-Star snub.
- Mechelle Voepel makes a well-reasoned case for why the WNBA deserves a much better All-Star Weekend.
- Devereaux Peters was forced to watch most of the season like the rest of us, but she used her Twitter account to address varying issues she noticed in the league, from questionable officiating to attacks against the league by internet trolls. Now with the Mercury, her platform has grown, and she reported on Twitter yesterday that she has been asked to write an op-ed for the Washington Post.
- Sue Bird discussed the WNBA pay gap recently.
- Another man is taken down by arrogance, backwards priorities and bloated ego. Urban Meyer must resign.
How to #WatchThemWork all season
Shine brighter. * flicker flicker *