The New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, Indiana Fever and all of their players have been fined by the WNBA for wearing black t-shirts in warmups contrary to the league’s uniform policy.
Despite using their celebrity to promote peace in wearing plain black Adidas t-shirts in response to two black men (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) shot and killed by police and five Dallas police officers slain at a protest, teams were each fined $5,000 and each player was fined $500, according to the Associated Press.
Players are required to wear only the uniforms supplied by the league during all WNBA games and practices, including warmup periods and going to and from the playing floor. League rules do not permit the alteration of uniforms in any way, such as adding, removing or covering over any symbols on the uniform or in any other manner.
Teams were sent these rules again earlier this week, but that didn’t stop the Liberty from wearing the shirts again on Wednesday and the Mercury and Fever wearing them on Tuesday.
“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,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders in a statement.
The Liberty have worn the shirts four times, the first time on July 10 with hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5 appearing on the front. Since then, the team has dropped the hashtags off the front and just worn plain black shirts.
“We’re still advocating for it. We’re still advocating for Black Lives Matter,” Liberty forward Tina Charles told SB Nation before the fines were levied on Wednesday. “Wearing a standard Adidas shirt, knowing that the WNBA is sponsored by Adidas. We’re still advocating for it and just more of a change in the system of what’s going on right now.”
Charles was the lone player to still wear a plain black shirt, flipping her team’s warmup inside-out Thursday morning before a game against the Fever at Madison Square Garden. She then posed for a picture while receiving her award for Player of the Month.
Today, I decided to not be silent in the wake of the @wnba fines against @nyliberty, @indianafever & @phoenixmercury due to our support in the #BlackLivesMatter movement . Seventy percent of the @wnba players are African-American women and as a league collectively impacted. My teammates and I will continue to use our platform and raise awareness for the #BlackLivesMatter movement until the @wnba gives its support as it does for Breast Cancer Awareness, Pride and other subject matters.
After the game, Liberty and Fever players used locker room media availability to talk only about issues in society and shared their responses on receiving fines.
“We really feel there’s still an issue here in America,” said Liberty guard and WNBA Players Association Vice President Tanisha Wright. “We want to be able to use our platforms, use our voices. We don’t want to let anyone silence us in what we want to talk about. It’s unfortunate that the WNBA has fined us and has not supported its players.”
Fever forward and WNBAPA President Tamika Catchings wouldn’t take basketball-related questions after the game either.
Phoenix Mercury players Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone, who were fined, expressed their frustration on Twitter as well.
5k a team $500 a player... For a tshirt?— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
When the shooting in Orlando happened the WNBA immediately sent shirts for us to wear to show support..— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
As a league with Players and fans a part of the LGBT community that's exactly what should have been done...— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
As players we have been trying to figure out where were the shirts to support the events going on in our country recently...— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
We were told a statement had been made and that was that...— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
So some teams decided to take matters in their own hands.— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
I think it's sick that we are being punished for supporting a matter that affects majority of us personally...— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
Why support one cause that effects our country and not another?— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
As our league take a month long break for the olympics you tell us shirts will be made for our first game back...— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
Fine me until the end of time! I have a 14 year old brother growing up in this country.— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
In a time where our league is searching for relevance why not take a stand and support your players on issues that effect majority of them— Sophia Petrillheaux (@kelseybone3) July 20, 2016
The Minnesota Lynx first made their stand on July 9, wearing “Change Starts with Us” shirts with the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile on the back, as well as the Dallas Police emblem. They also held a press conference. In response, four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working that day’s game left their security posts.
“It was very disappointing,” Charles said. “Because the whole point of the shirts, I know specifically what Minnesota was wearing, was that ‘Change Starts With Us.’ Meaning that us athletes, we have a platform we can use and we definitely want to lend our voice and know that it affects us too. We’re not immune to what’s going on out there just because our job is different so it affects us, and our family and friends.”
The Liberty heard no such backlash after they wore their shirts a day later.
“Our management is very supportive of what we wanted to do and the stand we wanted to take and they knew how important it was for us personally,” Charles said.