NEW YORK – WNBA president Lisa Borders says she hopes that rescinding the fines the league imposed over black warmup shirts worn in solidarity for shooting victims will lead to a fresh start on social activism for the players and their union.
“I would tell you in reflection, recognizing that we were at an impasse, we needed to move forward in the future,” she said Monday in a phone interview with the AP. “In order to do that, stop what you’re doing currently, take a breath and re-engage. Rescinding the fines allowed us to do that, along with the Olympic break.”
It had been a tense week for the WNBA and its players after the league decided to impose $500 fines on three teams for wearing the black warmup shirts in response to recent shootings by and against police officers, saying the shirts were a uniform violation. The fines seemed to galvanize the players, who used postgame interview sessions and social media to voice their displeasure. There also was public criticism of the fines, including from NBA star Carmelo Anthony. The league announced Saturday that the fines had been withdrawn.
“When we came to this decision most recently we realized it was a very complex issue,” Borders said. “There was no right way to deal with it. We had a traditional response to a nontraditional situation. Our players wanted to lift their voices on the court as well as off the court.”
The players were happy that the league had changed course and rescinded the fines.
“Because of this and how we were able to communicate as players, that’s really important,” said Tamika Catchings, who is president of the players’ association. “That’s a great thing. We’ve gotten players more engaged with the union and on social issues. Now I feel because of this, it brought our players home and more together and more focused on our voice and what we collectively stand for.”
Although the league is on a break until the end of August, Borders said conversations have renewed between the WNBA and its players. They will talk a lot during the monthlong Olympic break.
“If we all work together, we’ll make some incremental progress,” she said. “No one has dealt with this before in this format or this forum. We’ll get some things right and some things wrong.”
Borders said rescinding the fines had already been in the works and was decided on Friday, hours before the Rev. Al Sharpton and his organization, the National Action Network, said they would pay the fines.
“Rev. Sharpton is an amazing man and had an amazing history in civil rights. He was working when my grandfather was working in civil rights,” said Borders, who said the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross into her grandfather’s lawn nearly 60 years ago. “I appreciate all he has done and all he stands for, but we had this done inside our house before Rev. Sharpton got engaged.”
The president stopped short of saying it was a mistake to fine the players, but she did say that she hopes to learn from it.
“Not going to do do-overs,” she said. “Learn from what happened in the last 72 hours, help our behavior on a go-forward basis.”
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