The league had fined the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and their players for wearing plain black warmup shirts in solidarity against recent police shootings around the country. Each organization was fined $5,000 and players were issued $500 penalties each because WNBA rules stated that uniforms may not be altered in any way.
“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,” Borders said. “Given that the league will now be suspending play until August 26 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.”
Borders, who in February became the league’s fourth president, took heat for the penalties she doled out Thursday. Outraged players immediately hopped on Twitter to declare they would not be silent on the matter. Washington Mystics players wore shirts saying “Black Lives Matter” as they entered the arena and in the locker room after their game Friday night. Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx players tweeted out pictures of their teams wearing black shirts with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote before their game.
Some prominent voices outside the league also stoked the fire.
“I don’t see why there would be a reason for those ladies to get fined,” New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said at the USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas on Friday.”Everybody has freedom of speech. This is a platform right now where everyone is affected and everyone shows their frustrations in different ways.”
“I’m really proud of some of my former players and the way they’ve stepped forward and spoken their conscience and expressed their feelings,” said Team USA women’s basketball Coach Geno Auriemma.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said early Saturday that his organization, the National Action Network, would pay the $500 fines. He deemed the penalty “unacceptable.”
“We commend Lisa Borders for recognizing how the players of the WNBA felt and the sensitive time that we’re living in and being willing to re-evaluate their decision,” New York Liberty President Isiah Thomas said. “We are also very proud of our players the world is seeing what we already knew. They’re truly incredible, thoughtful and talented individuals. Our league, our partners and our society are better because of our players’ willingness to enter the political and social activism arena.”