WNBA players speak out over fines for protest warmup shirts [UPDATED]

The WNBA has taken the extraordinary step of issuing fines for players and teams who participated in wearing warmup shirts in support of both those who lost their lives in confrontation with police and police officers as well, a move the league reportedly did not take with NBA players who did the same thing following the death of Eric Garner back in 2014.

Three teams—the Phoenix Mercury, the New York Liberty and the Indiana Fever—were each fined $5,000, while every player was fined $500.

The news drew the consternation of WNBA players, who’d been publicly praised for taking the stand by the league itself.

In a statement to the Associated Press late Wednesday night, WNBA president Lisa Borders said this: “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.”

This effort to use fines to get the players to comply comes following a statement of qualified support from NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the protests by players. He praised those involved back on July 15, saying this: “I actually think it demonstrates that these are multidimensional people. They live in this society, and they have strong views about how things should be. So I’m very encouraging of that.”

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: Tina Charles #31 of the New York Liberty is seen before the game against the San Antionio Stars on July 10, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – JULY 10: Tina Charles #31 of the New York Liberty is seen before the game against the San Antionio Stars on July 10, 2016 in a WNBA game at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Even though he told the AP that he would prefer players use other means to speak out on issues that matter to them, there was little within Silver’s statement to indicate anything like a fine was coming.

“I think it’s a very slippery slope,” he said. “As to where you would draw the line when it’s appropriate for a particular player to use that, use a game, pregame, as a political forum, I think it’s a dangerous road for us to go down. So I would greatly prefer that the players use the platform they’re given, social media, press conferences, media in locker rooms, however they want to do it, to make their political points of view be known.”

WNBA, NBA decisions appear to differ

What’s remarkable about the decision is that the WNBA players are getting fined for precisely what NBA players did back in 2014, following the death of Eric Garner. Yet those players weren’t fined, nor were the teams, according to USA Today’s Sam Amick.

Excelle Sports inquired to the league Thursday morning why the NBA players were not fined for the Garner shirts while several WNBA teams have been for the recent protest shirts, and the league referred Excelle back to previous general statements by Borders and Silver.

A source familiar with the league’s actions indicated that in the case of the NBA players, uniform guidelines were reissued to the players after the Garner shirts were worn. After this occurred, NBA players ceased wearing the shirts as a statement.*

A $500 fine means far more in a league where the maximum salary for veterans with more than six years of service is $111,500, as is the case in the WNBA, than in the NBA, where the minimum rookie salary this past year was $525,093.

But there’s also the loss of empowerment the players clearly took from the league’s efforts to let their voices be heard this way.

“Especially when it’s hurting the society, especially when it’s not just you that is hurting but other individuals,” the New York Liberty’s Tina Charles said. “So the fact that I have some power, I use that as a sounding board to reflect what Adam Silver is saying, that you should use your platform to show how you feel, especially in the crisis that we have right now.”

Now, it appears, the league is saying something very different.

And the players are not happy about it.

WNBPA statement on WNBA fines

On Thursday afternoon, WNBPA Director of Operations Terri Jackson released this statement to Excelle Sports:

“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.  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.”

*This post has been updated with information from additional sources.

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