NEW YORK (AP) — Social activism is coming at a cost for WNBA players.
The WNBA has fined the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury and their players for wearing black warm up shirts in the wake of recent shootings by and against police officers.
All three teams were fined $5,000 and each player was fined $500 as the shirts violated the league’s uniform policy. While the shirts were the Adidas brand — the official outfitter of the league — WNBA rules state that uniforms may not be altered in any way.
“What’s most upsetting is the way it was handled,” Indiana Fever player rep Briann January said. “You have a league that is 90 — if not above 90 percent African American — and you have an issue that is directly affecting them and the people they know and you have a league that isn’t willing to side with them.
“It’s not a race issue, not an anti-police issue, not a black or white issue. It’s a right or wrong issue.” January said. “When the thing in Orlando happened the league saw the NBA backed it and we went all in. Nobody had any question. They knew it was a right or wrong issue. This is a very similar thing. It’s really disappointing the league isn’t having our back on this one.”
WNBA President Lisa Borders said Wednesday night in statement to The Associated Press the fines were not about the players speaking out on a social issue.
“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,” Borders said.
Nonetheless, Indiana Fever All-Star Tamika Catchings, who is retiring at the end of the season and is the president of the players union, is also disappointed in the WNBA’s actions.
“Instead of the league taking a stance with us, where they tell us they appreciate our expressing our concerns like they did for Orlando, we’re fighting against each other,” she said.
The league was quick to give every team shirts in support of the Orlando tragedy in June, which the players wore.
Typical WNBA fines for technical fouls or such are about half the $500 amount the players were fined for wearing the black shirts. WNBA rookies like New York’s Adut Bulgak make roughly $40,000, so the fine is about 1/80th of a first-year players’ salary.
The Liberty have worn the plain black shirts four times, including Wednesday morning against Washington. They didn’t wear them on Thursday in their matinee game against the Fever opting for their normal black shirts with the Liberty logo. Tina Charles did wear her warmup shirt inside out.
The Mercury and Fever wore them Tuesday night.
The league sent out a memo earlier this week to the teams reminding them of the uniform policy. The memo came out after Minnesota, New York and Dallas all wore shirts in remembrance of two men who were shot by police and the five Dallas police officers who were killed in an attack on July 7.
The Lynx only wore their shirts once and said they will shift their focus to addressing the issue in other ways. After wearing shirts with the hashtag “Black Lives Matter” and “Dallas5” for one game, the Liberty reached what the players said was a compromise, wearing plain black shirts bearing only the Adidas logo. For now they are back to wearing their normal warm ups.
Phoenix Mercury forward Mistie Bass tweeted, “Don’t say we have a voice and then fine us because we use it. #notpuppets #cutthestrings.”
The league will go on a monthlong Olympic hiatus beginning Saturday. January said even though the teams won’t be playing they will continue to actively engage in the social discussion.
“I think there’s a lot of people in our league who are very passionate about it. As a player rep we are going to continue having these conversations,” she said. “The timing of them releasing the statement and giving us the papers was very timely on their part.”
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