WNBA President Lisa Borders issues another statement on player activism, league rescinds fines


The uproar over fines assessed to WNBA players due to their activism gathered momentum this week as the athletes, fans and media piled criticism on the league for its actions. As a result, league president Lisa borders released the following statement today:

“All of us at the WNBA have the utmost respect and appreciation for our players expressing themselves on matters important to them. 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. Given that the league will now be suspending play until August 26th 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 and we have informed the players that we are rescinding the recently-imposed fines.”

In addition, NBA player Carmelo Anthony, prominent social activists and many others have been outspoken about the league’s decision to penalize players for using their voice to bring light to social issues.

Two weeks ago, Minnesota Lynx players were the first to wear warm-up shirts expressing their sorrow and feelings about recent events. They wore t-shirts with the names of two victims, the logo of the Dallas Police Department and the phrase “Black Lives Matter” printed on the back. The names on the shirt included Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African-American resident of Minnesota, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop in the Twin Cities. The front of the t-shirt included the phrase “Change Starts With Us” and “Justice & Accountability.”

“It is hard to deny that there is a real problem in our society” said Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson said during a pre-game press conference. “Tonight we will be wearing shirts to honor and mourn the loss of precious American citizens and to plead for change in all of us.”

While fans of the Lynx and players on other teams applauded Minnesota, the team was also on the receiving end of backlash from the union that represents Minneapolis police officers. However, the city’s police chief and mayor chimed in to voice their support of the team. They Lynx’s actions were also met with praise from NBA commissioner Adam Silver.

“I am absolutely in favor of players speaking out and speaking from the heart about whatever issues are important to them. It’s how this country operates. I’ve had this direct conversation with many of our players, and I’m not one to say they have an obligation to do it, but I think those that feel comfortable doing it and want to speak out, they have this incredible forum to do it, whether it’s through in a formal way through media members that are in this room or whether it’s through social media.”

As more incidents of police brutality took place after the Lynx event, more teams began to speak up. Then the fines begin to pile up as the league decided to punish the teams and players for violating the WNBA’s uniform policy. Fines were issued to the Indiana Fever, the New York Liberty and the Phoenix Mercury. Each team received a $5,000 fine. Each player received a $500 fine. Borders issued the following statement about the t-shirts and fines.

“We are proud of WNBA players’ engagement and passionate advocacy for non-violent solutions to difficult social issues but expect them to comply with the league’s uniform guidelines.”

Fever players were among those publicly criticizing the league.

“When the whole Orlando shooting happened, the league was quick to support and hand out T-shirts, and everyone in the league supported it,” Fever guard Briann January said Thursday to the Indianapolis Star. “Why pick and choose?”

January said the players across the WNBA expressed wishes to wear a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt but the league did not support their initiative. Instead, the WNBA issued a memo reminding players of the uniform policy.

January added the league’s actions showed it would rather “run away from the issue” and “not ruffle feathers” than supports its players, of which more than 70 percent are black.

“One of the toughest parts about this is this is, for me, a missed opportunity for us to share that knowledge with everybody,” January said. “It’s not a race issue. It’s about spreading love and care.”

Tamika Catchings, the president of the WNBA players union also spoke out on the matter.

“I think it’s really important for our voices to be heard,” Catching said per the Indianapolis Star. “We understand you go out on a branch when it’s something that you support, but I think one thing we’ve done a really good job of is that we’ve supported not just Black Lives Matter, but Orlando and everything that hit there.”

University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma who leads the USA’s Olympic team expressed consternation about the fines this week. Several of his former players have been vocal about opposition to the fines including Liberty star Tina Charles.

“I respect Tina and the players in the WNBA for their concern and their voices and the passion that they have and for their beliefs. I really do. I’m really proud of some of my former players and the way they’ve stepped forward and spoken their conscience and express their feelings. I really believe that. I don’t know what the basis is for the WNBA fines. I haven’t read their side of it. I assume that showing that kind of concern is fine from what I could tell and going through it, and I don’t know if the issue is the fact that the players want to continue doing it every single game. I don’t know what the issue is.”

However, the fines put the league in the media spotlight with writers and columnists who never the cover the WNBA chiming in with commentary. In addition, other teams were undaunted by the fines and decided to participate in protesting against the punishment by refusing to answer questions postgame that were not about the fines or the social activism of players.

Friday night players from the Washington Mystics, the Seattle Storm and the Lynx posted updates on Twitter and Instagram showing the teams wearing black t-shirts. The Storm played the Lynx in Minneapolis. Players from both squads posted status updates of team members wearing black T-shirts. The updates from Mystics players were accompanied with the Martin Luther King Jr. quote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Today, before the league rescinded the fines, the Rev. Al Sharpton said his organization, the National Action Network, would pay the penalties imposed on the players.

Team USA’s women’s basketball team, comprised completely of WNBA players, plus the USA Select team are in Los Angeles this weekend practicing and preparing for an exhibition game on Monday that will be televised on NBA TV and streamed on Facebook. Several foreign players who are on national teams left earlier this week to prepare for the Olympics. The league is on a break until after the Rio Games.


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