NBA commissioner Adam Silver often gets caught between his personal progressiveness and the fact he’s running a multi-billion-dollar business.
My favorite example: When asked about players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts a couple years ago, Silver always started by enthusiastically praising them speaking their minds then added a caveat. Seemingly sighing, Silver noted he preferred the players follow the league’s on-court dress code.
I found it all quite charming.
But NBA players made their point then quit wearing the shirts. In the WNBA, where the Minnesota Lynx wore anti-violence shirts that caused off-duty police to walk off their security jobs, it has been a prolonged protest.
And now, that league has reached a point Silver seemingly dreaded the NBA reaching.
The WNBA has fined the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever and their players for wearing black warm up shirts in the wake of recent shootings by and against police officers.
All three teams were fined $5,000 and each player was fined $500.
The Liberty have worn the plain black shirts four times, including Wednesday morning against Washington. The Mercury and Fever wore them Tuesday night. While the shirts were the Adidas brand – the official outfitter of the league – WNBA rules state that uniforms may not 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 said in a statement provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday night.
The league sent out a memo earlier this week to the teams reminding them of the uniform policy.
The NBA and WNBA are businesses — not civil-rights organizations. I’m OK with the leagues acting like the businesses they are, except the way they also hold themselves up as moral leaders first.
The WNBA’s president tries to have it both ways, and it clearly doesn’t work. Phoenix Mercury’s Mistie Bass sees right through it:
The WNBA surely didn’t want to reach this point — fining players for social activism to protect a brand. The NBA doesn’t, either.
It’s OK for players to wear a protest shirt once. Multiple times and after the league sent a memo? That’s the breaking point set by the NBA’s sister league. We’ll see whether any NBA players similarly challenge authority now that they know the line.