NEW YORK — The WNBA is withdrawing its fines for teams and players that showed support of citizens and police involved in recent shootings by wearing black warmup shirts before and during games.
WNBA president Lisa Borders said in a statement Saturday that the league was rescinding penalties given to the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury and their players for wearing the shirts — a uniform violation. The players started wearing them to show solidarity after shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, La.
Each team was fined $5,000 and players were each given a $500 penalty because WNBA rules stated that uniforms may not be altered in any way. The normal fine is $200.
"While we expect players to comply with league rules and uniform guidelines, we also understand their desire to use their platform to address important societal issues," Borders said. "Given that the league will now be suspending play until Aug. 26 for the Olympics, we plan to use this time to work with our players and their union on ways for the players to make their views known to their fans and the public."
The fines seemed to galvanize the players, who have used postgame interview sessions and social media to voice their displeasure. There has also been public criticism of the fines, including from NBA star Carmelo Anthony.
The Liberty wore the plain black shirts four times, including Wednesday against Washington. Indiana and Phoenix donned the shirts Tuesday before their nationally televised game. The fines were administered Wednesday and neither the Fever nor Liberty wore the shirts at their matinee game on Thursday. Tina Charles did wear her regular black warmup shirt inside-out in honor of a shooting in Florida that morning.
"We commend Lisa Borders for recognizing how the players of the WNBA felt and the sensitive time that we're living in and being willing to re-evaluate their decision," Liberty president and Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas said. "We are also very proud of our players the world is seeing what we already knew. They're truly incredible, thoughtful and talented individuals."
Washington players had shirts saying "Black Lives Matters" in the locker room after their game Friday. Seattle and Minnesota players tweeted out pictures of their teams wearing black shirts featuring a Martin Luther King Jr. quote before their game. They didn't wear the shirts on the court to avoid getting fined.
While the league begins its monthlong break, its top players will be playing in Rio at the Olympics. U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said he was proud of their social activism.
"I respect Tina (Charles) and the players in the WNBA for their concern and their voices and the passion that they have and for their beliefs. I really do," he said, citing the former UConn player and Liberty star for wearing her warmup shirt inside-out before Thursday's game.
Auriemma said if players take actions at the Olympics, it would be a difficult balancing act: "As far as USA Basketball is concerned, you know, that's a very delicate subject. Obviously each player has an opportunity to be who they want and say what they feel, but at the same time, you are representing the United States of America, and you are part of the Olympic team. … I'm sure it'll come up, and we'll have to deal with it."