WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson were suspended seven games each Friday for their domestic violence arrest last month — the league's longest ban in its 19-year history.
WNBA President Laurel Richie said the league "takes all acts of violence extremely seriously" in handing down a suspension that represents nearly one-fifth of the 34-game regular season. Richie called the players' actions "unacceptable."
"Brittney and Glory's conduct is detrimental to the best interests of the WNBA and violates applicable law," Richie said in a statement. "We also understand that people make mistakes, and that education and training are as important as imposing discipline."
The punishment comes at a time when sports leagues around the country are reviewing domestic violence policies following high-profile cases involving the NFL. Richie said she consulted with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and a variety of experts.
Griner plays for the defending champion Phoenix Mercury and Johnson for the Tulsa Shock. The players got married last week in Phoenix and their teams open camp Sunday. The league season begins June 5.
"I have already learned a tremendous amount from this experience and am committed to improving myself and my marriage going forward," Griner said in a statement. "I want to thank everyone for their support over these last few weeks. I realize I let down a lot of people who have been champions for me and I will support my teammates and our organization every day until I am back on the court. I am thankful for the opportunity to make positive changes and become a role model for others to do the same. "
The WNBA said the two All-Stars must undergo individual counseling. If either fails to comply with that condition or those by the court, the league says it can revisit the case.
"It is our strong belief that violence has absolutely no place in society, in sports or in this league," Richie said. "As president, it is my responsibility to protect the league and uphold its values."
The players were arrested April 22 on suspicion of assault after they fought in a home they recently bought. Griner pled guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and entered a diversion program. The assault charge was dismissed. She must attend 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling. All charges will be dismissed if she completes counseling. Johnson's case was transferred to county court and is still pending.
The league spent the last few weeks investigating. The WNBA said Johnson pushed Griner in the shoulder and she responded by pushing her in the back of the neck. The confrontation escalated to include wrestling, punches and the throwing and swinging of objects. The 6-foot-8 Griner received a bite wound on her finger and scratches on her wrist; the 6-4 Johnson received a scratch above her lip and was diagnosed with a concussion.
The Mercury open June 5 against San Antonio. If she doesn't appeal, Griner will be eligible to return against Minnesota on June 27. The Mercury play Johnson's Shock two games later on July 2. Johnson's first game back would be June 26 against New York.
"We appreciate the league's due diligence in investigating and making a decision in this matter," Shock President Steve Swetoha in a statement. "As an organization we strongly agree with President Richie's statement that there is no place for violence in our league, in our communities, or in society."
The longest suspension until now had been for six games, given to Kara Braxton in 2009 after her second DUI.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press