After a matinee game on Thursday, WNBA players from the New York Liberty and Indiana Fever refused to answer basketball-related questions from the media pool, in protest of the league's decision to issue fines to teams who repeatedly wore shirts supporting Black Lives Matter.
Earlier this month, the Phoenix Mercury, Indiana Fever, and New York Liberty all wore attire during warm-ups that supported Black Lives Matter and the murdered Dallas police officers before several different games. In response, the WNBA fined each team $5,000, with each player who wore a shirt receiving a $500 fine.
In a statement to the Associated Press, WNBA president Lisa Borders said “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.”
After Thursday's game, players from the Liberty and Fever openly discussed their support of Black Lives matter and the WNBA's decision to penalize them for it. “We really feel like there’s still an issue here in America,” Tanisha Wright of the New York Liberty said. “And we want to be able to use our platforms, we want to be able to use our voices, we don’t want to let anybody silence us and what we want to talk about. It’s unfortunate that the WNBA has fined us and not supported its players.”
That same day, the Liberty's Tina Charles accepted her WNBA Player of the Month award while wearing the standard issue Liberty warm-up shirt inside out. She reflected on her decision in an Instagram post: "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 [are] 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."
Two years ago, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers were not fined for wearing shirts reading "I Can't Breathe," in tribute to the last words of Eric Garner, a man killed by the NYPD, before a single game. Similarly, the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA wore shirts supporting Black Lives Matter on July 10 2016. They reverted to their regular warm-up uniforms after a single game, and were not fined.
Prior to the fines, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve indicated that the WNBA was supportive of the protesting teams. "We appreciate like crazy the support we've gotten, particularly from the league. [Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson, who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt] to feel like when you're going to work and the people around you support you and not just in things that benefit them, it makes you proud to go work for that organization." However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver referred to the warm-up attire as "a dangerous road for us to go down," and suggested that players speak their minds outside of the court.