The women of the WNBA had been unapologetically outspoken about the tragic deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the five Dallas Police officers. They desired justice for the victims, despite the lack of support received by the League.
“When you have 144 WNBA athletes and all 144 players support it, what we did, every single team supported it,” said Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings. “I think when you look at that, being able to use our voice, and of course we were going to get fined at first and nobody cared because we wanted to stand up for what we believed in.”
The WNBA fined the New York Liberty after the team continued to wear black warm up shirts, even after they agreed not to have the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5 on them. Prior to the fines, the WNBA sent all teams a letter about the uniform policy.
The fines came on July 20 after the Liberty wore black shirts in their game against the Washington Mystics. Every team that wore black shirts was fined $5,000 with a $500 fine with every player involved according to The Undefeated.
The New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and the Indiana Fever were affected by the fines. The League had a different response to the Orlando shooting; the WNBA gave players shirts with the hashtag #OrlandoUnited on them. The fines, however, did not deter the players.
Tina Charles of the Liberty spoke out after hearing about Charles Kinsey, an unarmed behavior therapist, got shot by police. When receiving the WNBA Player of the Month award, she turned her New York Liberty shirt inside out in protest.
“Today, I decided to not be silent in the wake of the [WNBA] fines against [New York Liberty], [Indiana Fever] & [Phoenix Mercury] due to our support in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.” Charles stated on Instagram.
Charles had the idea of having a media blackout in order shift the focus from basketball and to allow the voices of the players to be heard. Catchings and the Fever joined the New York Liberty after their game on July 21 for a media blackout.
“We really feel like there’s an issue still here in America, we want to be able to use our voices, we don’t want to let anybody silence us,” said Liberty guard Tanisha Wright while announcing the blackout. “It’s unfortunate that the WNBA has fined us and not supported its players.”
The media blackout sparked national attention. On July 23, WNBA president Lisa Borders released a statement about withdrawing the fines on the three teams.
“I think when you look at the power of African American women and being able to step up and join causes and support other brothers, that’s what it’s all about,” Catchings said.
The protests originated from the Minnesota Lynx wearing shirts that honored the victims and remarking the shooting deaths during a press conference. Their actions caused off-duty police officers who were working security for a Lynx game to walk off the job.
“What we wanted to come out of that is black lives matter, too,” Catchings said. “I think if anything, it’s just a matter of showing support and being able to use our voice and use the platform that we have to be able to make change.”