Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi Among 5 Players Suspended for W.N.B.A. Fight

Brittney Griner was one of five W.N.B.A. players suspended Tuesday for their roles in a fight during a game between the Phoenix Mercury and the Dallas Wings on Saturday.

Griner, a six-time All-Star center with the Mercury, received the longest suspension — three games. She later suggested to reporters that she was being targeted unfairly by referees and opposing players because of her size and her prominence as one of the league’s best-known players.

The fight began with more than six minutes left in Saturday’s game in Phoenix, as Griner tangled with Dallas’s Kristine Anigwe for a rebound. Anigwe appeared to yank on Griner’s arm and then swing a hand at Griner’s head. Both players squared up as their fight moved toward the Phoenix bench.

As Anigwe retreated down the sideline, Griner gave chase, swinging her fists, even as she was restrained first by a teammate and then by an official. Multiple players from both teams, including some who were not in the game at the time, became involved in a swarm of pushing and shoving at the scorer’s table.

The Wings’ Anigwe and Kayla Thornton were suspended for two games. The league, in announcing the punishment, said Griner’s penalty was for “throwing punches, escalating the incident, and pushing Thornton’s face with an open hand.”

Anigwe was suspended “for instigating the initial altercation and for taking an openhanded swing at Griner,” the league said. Thornton’s suspension was for “escalating the altercation.”

Diana Taurasi of the Mercury and Kaela Davis of the Wings got one game each for leaving the bench area. Taurasi was not playing in the game because of an injury.

All five of those players, plus Briann January of the Mercury, were ejected from the game. The Wings, who trailed by 6 points at the time of the fight, went on to win, 80-77.

Griner did not speak with reporters after the game but told The Arizona Republic on Monday that she was frustrated with the league. “I’m not doing it for the money because we don’t make enough, and they want to fine me for every little thing,” Griner said. “I’m getting techs for protecting myself in games and flagrants because they always only see me.” At 6-foot-9, Griner stands out on any court.

Her teammate Taurasi told The Republic: “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.”

“I mean, B.G. pretty much gets beat up every single game,” Taurasi told The Athletic. “The minute she steps on the floor, she basically gets physically abused, and a person can just take so much.”

Griner was suspended for seven games in 2015 after she and her wife at the time, Glory Johnson, fought at their house. Griner agreed to complete six months of domestic violence counseling. Johnson, also a W.N.B.A. player, was suspended for seven games as well.

The Mercury and the Wings are both struggling this year, sitting in fifth and sixth in the six-team Western Division.

Victor Mather covers every sport, no matter how small.  

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The WNBA Players Association Is Contesting Riquna Williams's Domestic-Violence Suspension

On Tuesday, the WNBA issued a statement announcing that Los Angeles Sparks guard Riquna Williams would be suspended for 10 games as a result of an incident of suspected domestic violence in December, which led to Williams’s arrest on April 29 of this year. Williams allegedly broke into a home in Palm Beach County, Florida, attacked her ex-girlfriend, Alkeria Davis, and then threatened Antonio Wilson, the man who helped restrain her, with a gun. Davis said the couple had broken up the month before after five years of on-and-off dating, and that Williams had never been violent before.

In its statement this week, the league said it conducted an investigation independent of the ongoing criminal proceedings, and found enough to suspend Williams under Article XIV of the CBA, which covers personal conduct. The league will also require that Williams undergo counseling as part of the suspension, which begins with Thursday’s game against the Dallas Wings, unless she appeals.

Unlike the NBA and MLB, the WNBA does not have an explicit rule regarding domestic violence, and the league’s handling of Williams’s situation has come under scrutiny over the last couple of months. As outlined by Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann, police had probable cause to believe that Williams had committed two felonies (burglary with assault or battery, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill), leading to questions about why she wasn’t suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. The burglary with assault or battery charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison in Florida.

Yet the league did not suspend Williams until Tuesday, nearly three months after the arrest. Once it did, though, it raised the ire of the players’ union, which argues Williams was not given a fair chance to defend herself, particularly given that she pleaded not guilty to the charges on May 6. In a statement to the AP following the announcement of the suspension, Women’s National Basketball Players’ Association president Terri Jackson said the league should not have suspended Williams before the criminal case was closed:

We are disappointed with the league’s actions. There is an ongoing criminal proceeding and in fairness to the player, the league could have and should have awaited its completion before taking any action.

Riquna has not had a fair opportunity to fully defend herself. We are immediately filing a grievance and will seek the arbitrator’s review.

If it stands, Williams’s suspension will be the longest domestic violence-related suspension in WNBA history, surpassing the seven-game suspensions handed out to Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner in 2015 over their domestic-violence arrests.

Williams’s case isn’t the only domestic violence-related incident the league is dealing with: Seattle Storm forward Natasha Howard was accused by her wife of domestic abuse in a series of tweets over the weekend. Howard denied the claims on Tuesday and filed for divorce. Both the Storm and the WNBA reportedly are investigating.

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