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At a time when we need more voices speaking up, powerful entities are trying to shut them down.
In the wake of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police and the shooting of five police officers in Dallas, WNBA teams wore warm-up T-shirts honoring the movement for Black lives and the slain officers. A multiracial group of women, some of them mothers all of them strength personified, took the court wearing shirts that said phrases like “Change Begins With Us,” "Justice and Accountability," and "Black Lives Matter". Standing strong, even as they received unfair attacks from police officers.1
But this week, the WNBA decided to crack down on some of the players for their statement against violence and police brutality.2 Will you join me in demanding that the league rescind their fines i...
The WNBA fined 37 players from the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury who wore warm-up shirts in protest of police brutality. Because of low pay, the women of the WNBA often take second jobs or play overseas, in order to live out their dream of being a professional basketball player.3 For many of them, the $500 dollar fines are far from insignificant – and yet many continue to speak out despite that.
But this is about more than fines, this is about the WNBA reinforcing that police violence in our communities doesn’t matter, that our issues aren’t important and that speaking on them makes you subject to punishment. With more than 70% of the league being made up of Black athletes, the WNBA is heavily profiting from the hard work of Black players and should not be trying to silence them as they call for an end to the violence they face daily.4
It didn’t matter to the WNBA that the shirts were made by Adidas, the league’s official uniform supplier and that the players made sure that they conformed with uniform requirements.5 The players even informed the WNBA last week of their plans and were not told they would be subject to fines.
Even more puzzling is that the WNBA and NBA both have a history of supporting the freedom of athletes to express themselves when it comes to political and social issues. In 2010 the Phoenix Suns wore Los Suns shirts in support of Latinx communities in Arizona threatened by the merciless anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070. And most recently, the WNBA gave every player T-shirts in support of the Orlando tragedy in June. The daily killing of unarmed civilians at hands of law enforcement is a tragedy that also deserves public acknowledgement.
If the league is truly “proud of WNBA players' engagement and passionate advocacy for non-violent solutions to difficult social issues” then they will rescind these fines and support these athletes' calls for justice, just like they did in the wake of the Orlando shooting.
From Muhammad Ali to Serena Williams, we’ve all felt the power and pride that comes from seeing our heroes on the field, in the ring or on the court fight against injustice and for our communities. We know those iconic moments; a fist raised in the air on the Olympic podium, and the reveal of an “I can’t breathe” shirt. They are reminders that those on our TVs feel the same pain and devastation that we do when they wake up to another senseless death and that they too believe in a better world. It helps make our movements and message for change unignorable.
When those that have a public platform, use that platform to speak truth to power, we need to have their backs.
Until Justice is Real,
--Brandi, Rashad, Arisha, Evan, Anika, Bernard and the rest of the ColorOfChange team.
1. “Minneapolis cops working Lynx game walk out over player comments, warm-up jerseys,” StarTribune, 07-12-2016
2. “WNBA Fines Teams And Players Wearing Black Warmup T-shirts;’,” ESPN, 07-21-2016
3. “BASKETBALL’S GENDER WAGE GAP IS EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK;’,” Vice Sports, 08-12-2015
4. “2015 Women’s National Basketball Association Racial and Gender Report Card;’,” Sports Business News, 10-21-2015
5. “WNBA Fines Players For Wearing Shirts To Honor Recent Shooting Victims;’,” Huffington Post, 07-21-2016