If one can go 90 seconds on any sort of social media without seeing a social activist hashtag like #BlackLivesMatter or #JusticeForInsertName, then they must not be following anyone on that account. Social activism is everywhere, ranging from debates about which bathrooms transgenders are allowed to use and how companies should fire someone just because their opinion doesn’t match someone else’s. Of course, this is to be expected in the age of the internet, where absolutely nothing ever goes away.
But, social activism comes at a price, especially when your occupation is one where eyes are always on you. As ESPNW, a part of the network dedicated solely to women’s sports, passed along on Thursday morning, the WNBA has levied several fines for violations of the uniform policy. The violation: black T-shirts that were worn by players to protest shootings by police officers of black men and, later, shootings of police officers by people who wanted to hurt the men in blue.
WNBA President Lisa Johnson said the following in a statement.
“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.”
All three teams were fined $5,000, and each player was fined $500. The New York Liberty have worn the plain black shirts four times, most recently on Wednesday morning against the Washington Mystics, while the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever each wore them Tuesday night.
Although these shirts were manufactured by Adidas, which is the official outfitter of the league, WNBA rules explicitly state that uniforms may not be altered in any way. While the shirts did not say Black Lives Matter on them, the lack of a logo was enough for a $500 fine in the WNBA’s eyes.
The Minnesota Lynx also wore these shirts mainly to support the Black Lives Matter group but decided to find a different way to make their voices heard after police scheduled to work that night left in anger.
Lt. Bob Kroll, the president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, defended his men, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“I commend them for it… “If [the players] are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there. [Officers who work the game as security] can start or stop a job whenever they want. They are working on an independent contract. They only have four officers working the event because the Lynx have such a pathetic draw.”
ESPN reported that Maya Moore, the star of the Lynx and a four-time All-Star, said this in a pre-game news conference.
“If we take this time to see that this is a human issue and speak out together, we can greatly decrease fear and create change. Tonight we will be wearing shirts to honor and mourn the losses of precious American citizens and to plead for change in all of us.”
While this outcome was to be expected, given both the negative reception after the incident with the Minnesota Lynx and the fact it does violate the uniform policy, it is troubling to see the WNBA be so strict about this. Had the Liberty or Fever wore a shirt that said “Pigs deserve to die” with a picture of a pig in a blue uniform, then I can see the problem, but this? You wear a shirt that says “Black Lives Matter” on it, maybe I see the issue, but just a regular black shirt?
Yes, there are rules that need to be followed, but there was nothing derogatory about the shirts, and they were for a good cause. Were players going out and publicly saying all police officers need to be lynched? Were players blasting “F— Tha Police” or “Cop Killa” during pre-game warmups? No? Then maybe the WNBA was wrong here to levy these fines.
Also, the WNBA gets zero attention as-is because there’s no interest in women’s sports leagues that don’t feature them degrading themselves or wearing lingerie. Many even casual NBA fans regard the WNBA not as a “sister league,” but as a joke because it’s full of women and gets virtually no reception other than the occasional ESPN game.
But here, you have people openly discussing the WNBA and starting to do research on the teams and players. They say that even bad publicity is good publicity, and maybe this was a blessing in disguise for the WNBA. People are going to start looking at the WNBA not so much as a joke, but more as the league that openly embraced Black Lives Matter on the court.
And, as would be expected, there’s a level of outrage coming from the players themselves. Take it away, Mistie Bass.
— Mistie Bass (@A_Phoenix_Born) July 21, 2016
Again, rules are rules, and they’re supposed to be obeyed without argument, but maybe the league overreacted here. Besides, it’s not like many people were in the arena to see the shirts to begin with.
[Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP Images]