WNBA working with players on housing concerns

Although some WNBA players offered positive reviews of their accommodations upon arriving for the league’s resumption of play, others found rodent traps, bugs and showers that didn’t drain.

The dramatically differing experiences in the WNBA’s self-styled “bubble,” which many chronicled on social media, underscored preexisting concerns about the league’s preparedness and organization as it attempts to stage a 22-game regular season and playoffs at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

WNBA players choosing to participate in a season reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic traveled to Florida on Monday (the Indiana Fever delayed their arrival after two players tested positive). Late Monday, a Twitter thread from ESPN’s Kayla Johnson that included videos shared with her and taken in player lodgings showed a spartan laundry room in which a rodent trap sat conspicuously on a ledge and a worm was on the carpet.

Responding to a tweet from NBA counterpart Damian Lillard, A’ja Wilson vouched for the video’s authenticity. A source close to players in Bradenton also confirmed its authenticity to ESPN and said players encountered a broken bed, faulty plumbing and marginal food.

The league sent players a survey Tuesday seeking input on their lodging, and one source close to players who had negative experiences noted that the league was proactive Tuesday in its efforts to address concerns.

Another source told ESPN that IMG brought in third-party exterminators Tuesday and found no signs of bedbugs in the specified lodgings.

“We have been working closely with IMG and the Players Association to address issues players have expressed about one of the housing locations on campus,” the WNBA said in its statement Tuesday. “IMG is accommodating all player requests regarding these issues, including moving players to other accommodations.”

All of the players in question were staying at The Lodge at IMG Academy, one of three housing sites for players near the arena where games will be played. Run by IMG, the hotel is described on the academy website as ideal for short and extended stays. According to the Bradenton Herald, construction began in 2017, making it the newest of the sites used by the WNBA.

Other players are staying either in a second hotel on the IMG campus, along with much of the league’s staff, or in fully furnished apartment-home “villas” on site. No players are staying in the dormitory-style residence halls for IMG students.

The negative reviews were far from universal as players settled in for a four-day quarantine period.

The Chicago Sky’s Cheyenne Parker posted an Instagram story on Monday touring what appears to be one of the villas, including the laundry room, and could be heard praising the accommodations. The Connecticut Sun’s Natisha Hiedeman also posted a story from her lodgings of her relaxing with a plate full of crab legs.

The Minnesota Lynx’s Lexie Brown tweeted Tuesday, acknowledging that what she saw in the video was “disgusting and unacceptable” but noting that her own accommodations were “super nice.”

A source confirmed to ESPN that the WNBPA, the union representing players, toured lodging sites before players arrived, though individual teams could not. The union did not respond to a request for comment from ESPN.

The lodging complaints come in the context of a series of concerns expressed by players as the league attempts to get its 24th season off the ground amidst the pandemic that shut down professional sports this spring.

The WNBA announced its return plans on June 15. Players subsequently expressed concern about the short amount of time they had to decide whether to play (those who opt out without medical approval will not be paid). ESPN earlier reported that players did not receive detailed information about the self-contained “bubble” at IMG until a day before their decisions were due. Questions also arose about adequate training staff, with traveling parties limited to less than half of those allotted to NBA teams.

One source described the league as generally “opaque” in its communication with players and told ESPN on Tuesday that there was frustration about players’ having to train and undergo COVID-19 testing in their markets last week and then return home, in some cases, before traveling to Florida.

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