The WNBA fined the New York Liberty, Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury for wearing black warm up shirts in protest of national shootings involving African-Americans. Teams were fined $5,000 and each player was fined $500.
Following the Liberty’s 82-70 loss to the Indiana Fever on Thursday afternoon, the Liberty players didn’t speak about the game, but instead gave a statement about the fine.
“We really feel like there’s still an issue here in America and we want to be able to use our platforms, we want to be able to use our voices,” New York guard Tanisha Wright told the assembled media in the Liberty locker room. “We don’t want to let anyone silence us in what we want to talk about.”
Wright added that “it’s unfortunate that the WNBA has fined us and not supported its players.”
The WNBA’s announcement was not as surprising as the timing of it. “I’m surprised that when it took place,” Wright said. “Because we had been already wearing our shirts for four games in. So to me, it looks like they just decided that they’re just going to do it just because. If you’re going to do something, stand strong on it, stand firm on it, do it from the beginning.”
The team was looking to raise awareness with the shirts although Wright pointed out that it shouldn’t come across as other lives don’t matter. “Same message that we sent the first time,” Wright said. “We feel like America has a problem with the police brutality that’s going on with black lives around here and we want to just use our voices, use our platforms to advocate for that. Because someone says, “Black Lives Matter”, doesn’t mean that other lives doesn’t matter. People put this imaginary ‘Black Lives Only Matter’ whenever people say “Black Lives Matter”. What we’re saying is, ‘Black Lives Matter, Too. Period.’”
When Wright was asked what she thought the thinking of the league was, the guard replied that “I’m not sure what the league is thinking. That’s a question that you have to ask the league. What I am sure about is, majority of this league is made up of black women. So this is something that directly affects us, and we want to use our voices.”
Before the game, Tina Charles accepted the award for Player of the Month in June, but did so with her shirt inside-out. Charles said her thoughts were with the events of a shooting in Miami this morning. “An African-American male who was down and just trying to help an autistic person out,” Charles said. “When I heard about this news, I just couldn’t be silent. You know, just knowing my status, just knowing the player I am representing this organization. If anybody was going to wear it, I know it had to be me, so for me personally it’s just all about me continuing to raise awareness. I have no problem wearing this shirt inside-out for the rest of the season, until we’re able to have the WNBA support.”
Veteran Swin Cash wanted to clarify that this wasn’t some anti-cop movement. “I’d just also like to add to that is that we would appreciate the people stop making our support of Black Lives Matter, an issue that is so critical in our society right now, as us not supporting the police officers. There’s a lot of women in this room right now, WNBA, that have family members that are in law enforcement, family who are in the military, and so that is not true. The fact of the matter is there is an issue at hand and as much as we can grieve and feel sorry for those families that are losing the police officers, we also have the right and the ability to also have our voice be heard about an issue that goes back even further than the deaths that have been happening lately. And so I think people need to understand it’s not mutually exclusive. You also can support both things, but at the same time this issue is important to us and that’s where we stand on things.”
Cash added that, “we’re not in a form of defiance to the league. We understand we have sponsors. We actually took a step to make sure that we still had all black shirts with Adidas on it to support the sponsor. We would just hope that the league would be more open to working with the players because, like Tanisha said, the majority of our players are passionate about this. The majority of our players care about this. The majority of our players are affected by this and it’s something that has to change.”
The WNBA isn’t necessarily afraid to have a message, as the league has supported Orlando, gay pride, and green month. “We’re for that, right,” Wright said. “The league supported Orlando and we’re ok with that. We were, as a team, ok with that. As a league, as players, we were absolutely ok with that.”
“Especially having a player from Orlando,” Charles added.
“Absolutely,” Wright said. “You know what I mean. And we wanted to support that but also they can’t pick and choose what initiatives to support and what not to support. Just because it doesn’t push their agenda. This is important to us. I’ll say it again. More than, what, 70 percent of this league is made up of African-American women. Alright. That affects us. Directly. And we need them to be just as supportive with this issue as they were with any other issue. Breast cancer awareness, they support that. Pride, they support. Go Green initiative, they support. Right? So we want them to hear our voices and support and stand with us and support this as well. Like Swin said, we’re not trying to be defiant, we just want a little support with something that affects us directly.”
Charles Barkley famously said “I’m not a role model”. But like it or not, athletes are looked up to and now the Liberty see it as a chance for something bigger than basketball. “We’re considered role models,” Cash said. “And there are a lot of young girls, a lot of young African-American girls, young boys that look up to us. And so, it’s only right that we have a voice in this and they can see that we’re not just role models that can play basketball. We’re speaking about issues that directly affect them.”