Who would’ve bet on WNBA to rescind their fines on player protests? While the bureaucracies of professional sports are often considered to be arrogant and stubborn, WNBA President Lisa Borders is showing to be the opposite. Borders decided to withdraw the fines that had been issued to both teams and players for being vocal in matters regarding social injustice.
Several WNBA teams showed their support for minorities by sporting unique attire for warm-ups and even during the games themselves. Originally Borders had handed out $500 fines to the players of New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, and Indiana Fever for violating the league’s uniform policy. Players had elected to wear black shirts with hashtags that read Black Lives Matter and Dallas5. This is a stark comparison to the normal fine for a uniform violation which is just $200. Each team was also fined $5,000 for speaking out against the murders of both African-Americans and police officers.
In light of LeBron James’ recent statements at the ESPYS you’d be inclined to bet on WNBA to be expecting players to step up and be vocal. Especially considering that 70% of WNBA players are African-American and have been affected by police shootings themselves. The original fines may have been exaggerated by an incident involving the Minneapolis Lynx. On the 9th of June police officers walked out of Target Center in downtown Minneapolis. The officers were acting in response to the Lynx’s holding a news conference to address racial profiling while also wearing Black Lives Matter warm-up jerseys. Four police officers in total abandoned their post, and several others have decided to request no more assignments at the Target Center. The shirts in question read “Change starts with us, justice and accountability” as well as having an emblem of the Dallas Police Department.
The WNBA’s fines were met with extreme backlash, and rightfully so. NBA players have donned similar shirts and have faced no criticism. But not just NBA players, NFL players and teams have been vocal in social issues before. Specifically, the St. Louis Rams came out onto the field with their hands in the air referencing Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson. So if male athletes can be vocal about social injustice why can’t female athletes? This question is what ultimately made Borders reverse the WNBA’s decision.
“All of us at the WNBA have the utmost respect and appreciation for our players expressing themselves on matters important to them.” Borders wrote in an official statement. “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.”
While the fines were ultimately canceled, the mere fact that they were handed out in the first place speaks volumes about the different circumstances facing female athletes. In the past it was certainly risky for athletes to be vocal about social issues, but recently male athletes have been vocal and faced no repercussions. This of course is a good thing, but it is ridiculous for female athletes to get fined for the exact same thing. In the end it is refreshing to see – even though no sportsbook user would’ve bet on WNBA actually doing it – the league do the right thing and rescind their fine.