HARTFORD, Conn. — Breanna Stewart’s impending free-agency decision is quite possibly the biggest storyline in the WNBA this offseason, but the UConn women’s basketball legend is looking to draw attention to another issue as well.
Stewart tweeted on Sunday that she wants to use her name, image and likeness (NIL) to help pay for the cost of charter travel for WNBA players.
Unlike in most major professional sports, WNBA players currently travel on commercial flights, except on rare occasions. WNBA teams are prohibited from paying for charter flights for their players, on the grounds that other teams are unable to pay for theirs and it is considered a competitive advantage.
Sports Illustrated reported last March that the New York Liberty were fined $500,000 after chartering a flight for a team trip to Napa, Calif., and repeatedly chartering flights during the second half of the season, and remarkably, that terminating the franchise was actually discussed as a penalty.
The issue of chartered flights has long been contentious between WNBA players and the league, and ESPN reports that the assumption that Brittney Griner will need to fly privately due to security concerns following her release from a Russian prison has brought the issue even more to the forefront.
Stewart was vocal in supporting Griner and advocating for her release, and tweeted about her on an almost daily basis after her arrest.
In an interview with ESPN in March 2022, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that chartering flights isn’t financially feasible for the league. “It would be more than $20 million a year to fund charter flights for an entire WNBA season,” Engelbert told ESPN. “So this is something that we’re not going to jeopardize the financial health of the league and be irresponsible about. If we can get it funded by sponsors and supporters, great, but that’s not where we are. We do not have that.”
In her tweet, Stewart said she would like to contribute her NIL, social posts and production hours to “ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health and safety, which ultimately results in a better product.”
After Stewart’s tweet, several current and former WNBA stars, including Sue Bird, Elena Delle Donne, Napheesa Collier, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike and the WNBA Players’ Association all tweeted their support. Current UConn star Paige Bueckers did as well.
Bueckers has NIL deals with Nerf, Bose, Gatorade, Crocs and StockX, just to name a few. She has an estimated NIL valuation at $823,000, according to On3.com, which keeps track of college athlete sponsorship deals.
Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant and former NBA player and Twitter personality Rex Chapman also tweeted their support.
For what it’s worth, the Liberty are considered a strong contender to land Stewart in free agency, if she decides to leave the Seattle Storm, where she has spent the first six seasons of her career.
It remains to be seen how this issue will affect Stewart’s free agency, but at the very least, she is using her platform to draw attention to it.
WNBA players can begin signing deals with teams on Feb. 1.©2023 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.