The WNBA was at the center of a national controversy after players were fined for supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement. While the league has withdrawn those fines, it’ll continue to be looked at as a step towards the wrong side of history.
Players from multiple teams, in a league where a vast majority of the players are black, chose to take other athletes up on their challenge to show support for a cause they believe in. As a result, dozens of them were fined.
Members of the New York Liberty, Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury protested police violence by wearing black t-shirts or turning their warmups inside out during warmups. As expected, this decision wasn’t universally loved by the public.
For example, police officers who were assigned to fill in as security for the Minnesota Lynx walked out after seeing players wear shirts that read the names of recent victims of both police violence and the fallen Dallas police officers who were murdered. There were even threats by police officials that no officers would be interested in taking their place until the players “changed their stance.”
“When I heard that news I couldn’t be silent,” said the New York Liberty’s Tina Charles, who recently won the award for WNBA Player of the Month. “Just knowing my status, knowing the player I am representing this organization. If anybody was going to wear it, I knew it had to be me. For me personally, it’s all about me continuing to raise awareness. I have no problem wearing this shirt inside out for the rest of the season until we’re able to have the WNBA’s support. So just in my position, I’m going to continue to do that.”
The WNBA then stepped in to inform the teams and players involved that fines would be put in place for their actions. The Liberty, Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury were each fined $5,000 and each player was fined $500.
There was a clear double standard in place. None of these players’ actions were all that different than those taken by their NBA counterparts.
During the Donald Sterling controversy, when the former Los Angeles Clippers majority owner was recorded using racist language, players turned their warm-ups inside out before games as a form of silent protest until he was removed from power. LeBron James, Derrick Rose and many other players warmed up before Dec. 2014 games while wearing black t-shirts that read “I Can’t Breathe,” calling on Eric Garner’s last words before he was choked to death by an NYPD officer.
Sure, these moments came with a noticeable amount of pushback from the community. But the NBA either remained silent or supported their players’ decisions to stand up for a cause they believe in – saving lives. Which brings us to the clear missteps made by the WNBA.
“While we expect players to comply with league rules and uniform guidelines, we also understand their desire to use their platform to address important societal issues,” said WNBA president Lisa Borders. “Given that the league will now be suspending play until August 26 for the Olympics, we plan to use this time to work with our players and their union on ways for the players to make their views known to their fans and the public.”
Maybe it’s because they felt that they aren’t the worldwide juggernaut that the NAB has become and couldn’t afford to take the gamble. After a few days, the league realized that they were walking backwards and rescinded the fines. Hopefully this will be a learning experience moving forward.