After the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and a subsequent ambush that left five Dallas police officers dead, three WNBA teams chose to honor the slain men by wearing black T-shirts that read #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5.
Now those players are being fined.
According to ESPN, the WNBA has fined the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, Indiana Fever and their players for wearing black warm-up shirts to speak out against the recent shootings by and against American police officers. All three teams were slapped with a fine of $5,000, while each player will have to fork over $500.
While the players intentionally wore Adidas shirts so as to comply with WNBA sponsorship rules, the organization still took issue with the messages printed on their shirts. Plus, WNBA rules state that player uniforms are not to be altered in any way.
“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,” WNBA president Lisa Borders told the Associated Press in a statement.
Mercury forward Mistie Bass expressed her frustration with the guidelines via Twitter.
— Mistie Bass (@A_Phoenix_Born) July 21, 2016
A Wednesday morning game against the Washington Mystics was the New York Liberty’s fourth time wearing the plain black T-shirts; the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever wore their shirts Tuesday night, ESPN reports.
The fines come one week after four off-duty police officers left their posts during a Minnesota Lynx game after seeing players wearing t-shirts that read, “Change starts with us, justice and accountability” on the front, Atlanta Black Star reports. Castile and Sterling’s names were displayed on the back along with a Dallas Police Department emblem and the words “Black Lives Matter.”
Team members Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore, and Lindsay Whalen said they wore the shirts in honor of the two Black men and police officers killed earlier this month.
“In the wake of the tragedies that have continued to plague our society, we have decided it’s important to take a stand and raise our voices,” Brunson explained during a press conference. “Racial profiling is a problem. Senseless violence is a problem. The divide is way too big between our communities and those who have vowed to protect and serve us.”
Prior to announcing the fines, the WNBA showed no indication that they were unhappy with the player’s actions. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver actually applauded the women for taking a stand. According to the Associated Press, Silver has long been an advocate of players standing up for issues they believe in.
“I actually think it demonstrates that these are multidimensional people,” Silver said Tuesday. “They live in this society, and they have strong views about how things should be. So I’m very encouraging of that.”
While he’s all for players speaking out against social issues, the NBA Commissioner said he wishes teams like the Lynx and Liberty didn’t alter their uniforms to do so.
“I think it’s a very slippery slope,” he explained. “As to where you would draw the line when it’s appropriate for a particular player to use that, use a game, pregame, as a political forum, I think it’s a dangerous road for us to go down. So I would greatly prefer that the players use the platform they’re given, social media, press conferences, media in locker rooms, however they want to do it, to make their political points of view be known.”
It should be noted that Silver decided not to fine NBA players two years ago when they donned T-shirts bearing the phrase ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, in honor of slain New York man Eric Garner. In an act similar to that of the WNBA players, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose and others wore the shirts to demand justice for Garner’s family.
“It was a message to the family,” James said of the shirt. “That I’m sorry for their loss, sorry to his wife. That’s what it’s about. I think everybody else gets caught up in everything else besides who’s really feeling it, and that’s the family. That’s what it’s about.”