Two years ago, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and other NBA players took a stand against police brutality by wearing warmup shirts that read "I Can't Breathe" across the chest. Eric Garner was choked to death by Staten Island, N.Y. police officers over selling loose cigarettes. The killing was on camera and showed Garner gasping for air as he said, "I can't breathe" 11 times. Sadly, a grand jury declined to indict the officers involved, setting off a string of protests that continue today. The NBA didn't fine the players for their shirts. Instead the league supported their right of freedom of speech.
The civil unrest in 2016, coupled with the lethargic movement by our government on issues involving gun control and police brutality, caused Knicks star Carmelo Anthony to rally his fellow athletes into taking a stand like those that came before.
Recently, WNBA players took the call to arms by Anthony—who has already come out in their support—to heart by either turning their warm-up shirts inside out or by wearing shirts that have #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5 written across the chest. No big deal, right? Except, instead of standing behind these players, the WNBA has decided to fine them $500 each and each of their teams $5,000 for violating the uniform dress code.
There's also the interesting case of the Los Angeles Sparks splaying "All Lives Matter" across their scoreboard screens:
This reeks of tone-deafness and is reminiscent of the NFL's stance on running back DeAngelo Williams wanting to wear pink for an entire season to honor breast cancer and his late mother. You see, leagues like the NFL (and apparently the WNBA) only care to take stands when those stands benefit them. The Shield dedicates the entire month of October to wearing pink (and selling pink products) to benefit breast cancer awareness and their bottom line. The blanket of pink may fool you into thinking the NFL cares about women's health, yet preventing a player who lost his mother to that disease from wearing it year-round because it's a uniform violation tells an entirely different story.
It is mind-boggling that the WNBA would want to follow in the NFL's garbage footsteps when it comes to social issues like these, or that they think they can afford to. The NFL is the most profitable sports league on planet earth. The WNBA, 20 years later, is still fighting for relevancy.
How can the WNBA latch onto June's Pride Month and act so quickly to raise money for the victims of the Orlando shootings and then decide another life-or-death cause isn't worthy of their time? New York Liberty stand out Tina Charles, who posted a picture of herself accepting Player of the Month honors, wonders the same thing:
"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."
The players have retaliated by organizing a media blackout, demanding to only speak about the issues they are concerned with and not basketball. How can a league justify petty dress code fines of players who earn about as much as low-level sales managers? How can a league gloss over a topic as sensitive as paid government employees taking the lives of private citizens without punishment, particularly when the victims are the same race as 72 percent of the league? It can't, and the league should be ashamed of itself.
The WNBA—before it's too late—needs to remember that women's basketball is a sport where the athletes can boycott and easily find work overseas. They'd probably get paid more there anyway.