Reversing course, the WNBA says it is rescinding recent fines imposed on teams and players for wearing black t-shirts in support of the victims of recent shootings.
“All of us at the WNBA have the utmost respect and appreciation for our players expressing themselves on matters important to them,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement. “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.”
The fines applied to the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and their players. As the Associated Press reported, the black warmup shirts were a uniform violation, and “the players started wearing them to show solidarity after shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”
According to the wire service, “Each team was fined $5,000 and players were each given a $500 penalty because WNBA rules stated that uniforms may not be altered in any way. The normal fine for uniform violations is $200.”
Players continued to wear the black shirts after the fines were announced. Among the most vocal is New York Liberty forward Tina Charles, who tweeted this photo:
And players from both teams at the Liberty-Fever game on Thursday staged a “media blackout,” where they refused to answer any questions about basketball, as Sports Illustrated reported.
“We’re only talking about Black Lives Matter,” Fever forward Tamika Catchings said, according to the magazine.
Some of the shirts worn during the protest were solid black, while other carried the words “#BlackLivesMatter” and “#Dallas5,” referring to the five police officers killed in Dallas earlier this month.
“We really would appreciate that people stop making our support of Black Lives Matter, an issue that is so critical in our society right now, as us not supporting the police officers,” Liberty forward Swin Cash said Thursday, Sports Illustrated reported. “I think people need to understand that it’s not mutually exclusive.”
The fines drew swift criticism from prominent figures like NBA star Carmelo Anthony. “I don’t see why there would be a reason for those ladies to get fined,” he said, as The Washington Post reported. “Everybody has freedom of speech.”
Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network also said it planned to cover the cost of the fines.
After Saturday’s reversal, Charles posted this photo on Instagram, showing groups of players wearing black. She wrote: “Although this is only phase one, we are looking forward to the support and exploring ways to make a difference in the African-American community, given our platform, and continuing to be a voice to those who are marginalized in our society.”
Borders said that the league was suspended until after the Olympics, and they “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 public.”