The New York Liberty is facing a fine of $500,000 for a violation of WNBA league rules. New York Liberty team owners, Joe Tsai and Clara Tsai purchased chartered flights for away games during the second half of the WNBA season. Throughout the WNBA, chartering flights is typically not allowed due to it potentially giving one team an advantage if the other team owners can only afford commercial flights to away games. Tsai has been campaigning for better travel accommodations within the WNBA, even calling out the league’s commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, over Twitter in October. Engelbert says she supports the idea of chartering flights for the players, but the league needs to have more financial growth to afford those expenses.
Reportedly, Tsai has been trying to work with the WNBA to find a solution to solve this problem, but he was chartering flights secretly for his team, including a trip to Napa, California. The WNBA Board of Governors supposedly rejected an unofficial proposal brought about by the Liberty where the league would comp three years of chartered flights. A WNBA spokesman denied this and said nothing concrete has been presented.
“At no point was there a New York Liberty proposal for the WNBA Board of Governors to consider offering three years’ worth of charter flights for WNBA teams,” a spokesman said in a statement to ESPN. “It was agreed that the Liberty would explore opportunities regarding charter flights and present it to the Board. To date, that has not happened.”
For occasional and important postseason games, the WNBA has paid for comfortable chartered flights. Commercial travel has been a sensitive touchpoint within the WNBA in recent years with players coming forward about the accommodations such as cramped and uncomfortable seating on flights and other travel difficulties that have led to games being canceled.
Sports Illustrated reported that the general counsel threw out possible severe punishments for the Liberty, such as losing every draft pick, suspending ownership, or even terminating the franchise. The WNBA players’ association tweeted, “Fining the teams for standing up for equity, standing up for the players, harkens back to a league that fined the players for standing up for social justice.”
Whether you agree or disagree with how Tsai has handled this situation, it goes without question that WNBA players deserve comfortable accommodations that are consistent within the league. The players’ have been demanding equity for years, and the general counsel threatening to punish this franchise for standing up for themselves is not a good look for the league. The league needs to learn how to handle these situations better and how to be consistent. They cannot allow team owners to become desperate enough, where they need to sneak around league rules to provide proper accommodations for their players. This should simply be a given.