Players fume about WNBA fines, and the debate rages on: what is right?

As reported last night, the WNBA fined the New York Liberty, the Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury and their players for wearing black warm up shirts this week. Each team was fined $5,000, and each player, $500.

Athletes are angry.

Many took to social media to express their displeasure. Check the Fever’s team photo on Devereaux Peters’ Instagram on that link.

Other reactions from Chiney Ogwumike, Natalie Achonwa, Tina Charles, Tamika Catchings, and Alysha Clark.

Liberty players staged a Black Lives Matter-only post-game blackout after today’s match up with Indiana.

Charles wore her warm up shirt inside-out before the game.

Some players feel the league is giving them mixed messages.

As per ESPN, the WNBPA issued a statement about the fines:

“We are extremely disappointed the league chose to punish our players for bringing attention to an issue that continues to impact families and communities across the country,” WNBPA director of operations Terri Jackson said. “The league’s behavior has been inconsistent.

“Our players sought only to demonstrate in a constructive way that was consistent with reactions to social issues by NBA players, and with earlier league initiatives, including the recent tragedy affecting the LGBTQ community in Orlando. The league’s decision to try and suppress our players’ desire to express themselves is shortsighted and arbitrary, and we hope they will reconsider.”

In my interview with the WNBA representative last night, who confirmed the league’s actions, I was told that teams were given memos over the weekend reminding them that the uniform policy must comply with the sponsorship agreement with Adidas.

ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel makes the same point that I would, that technically, the league warned players and was within their rights to fine them:

Some observers will say that from a protocol standpoint, the league simply followed its rules. And that the players were seeking to bend the rules, which — if that went unpunished — might result in future controversies involving other displays on WNBA uniforms or alterations to them.

(Briann) January acknowledges that the league was “within their rights” to fine the players. She just wishes the WNBA would have worked more with the players instead of seeming to — from the players’ perspective — duck away from the issue.

But athletes and fans alike don’t understand why there was WNBA support for the Orlando shooting victims and families but not Black Lives Matter. The Mercury’s Mistie Bass, who began tweeting about the fines yesterday, said the WNBPA brought up the issue with the league in a call earlier this month, asking that teams be allowed to take a stand on the issue. Bass said:

“They were really reluctant. They said, ‘We have already made a statement and released something with the NBA.’ But they said they were open to having a conversation about maybe doing something more. But that was the end of it.”

January said players will continue to speak up and to make their voices heard, while working within the rules.

Good for them. This dialogue NEEDS TO CONTINUE, as unacknowledged racism and discrimination in the United States continues to rot the foundation of this nation. Anything players want to say, I will publish it; no question.

With regard to the fines, I can truly see both sides of the issue.

Yes, the WNBA has to adhere to the uniform policy to control player appearances, maintain sponsorships and to be professional. Yes, they reminded teams about the policy prior to fining them. And I do believe that the league sees this as a business issue, and they didn’t take into account how it might seem like they were delivering mixed messages.

And yes, WNBA personnel and their team representatives can be very hard to get hold of sometimes. They can be cryptic; player injuries aren’t even disclosed right away most times. There are mis-communications, non-communications, non-responses. It was only two years ago that the league began truly acknowledging their LGBT fan base.

I hope the WNBA and their amazing players can find ways to work together on this and other issues. It may be a small league, but it means an awful lot to people.

One thing I have a major issue with is the fines. I could see perhaps fining teams, but individual players? That seems, as teenagers like to say these days, “extra.” To an NBA player, $500 is petty cash. To an WNBA player, that’s a salary hit – and for what? No one committed a crime. Individual fines just seem mean.

As we enter this Olympic break, and beyond that, may the peaceful and progressive dialogue on racial issues continue. It is long overdue. And I sincerely appreciate the willingness of WNBA players to step up to that plate.

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