WNBA ‘Supports’ Players Who Knelt for Anthem After Levying Fines for Earlier Protests
The entire Indiana Fever basketball team and two Phoenix Mercury players knelt during the national anthem preceding their WNBA playoff game Wednesday night. The athletes took a knee in support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has refused to stand for the anthem since August in protest of the oppression of black people and other minorities in the United States. His action has sparked a nationwide movement in which athletes at all levels have adopted the stance in solidarity.
On Thursday, WNBA president Lisa Borders said in a statement that she supports “players expressing their views on important social issues.” Standing for an anthem, she said, “is a sign of respect and a demonstration of unity across many cultures throughout the world. The call to action is for all of us to invest time and resources to help rebuild and strengthen our communities. And we have been actively working with the players on this next impactful effort.”
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Her remarks highlight the league’s somewhat murky and evolving stance on its players’ statements on social issues this season. The organization faced fierce criticism in July when players from three teams—the New York Liberty, the Fever, and the Mercury—wore t-shirts intended to bring awareness following shootings by and of the police, and the league responded by fining each team $5,000 and levying a $500 penalty against individuals.
At the time, Borders, formerly the chairwoman of the Coca-Cola Foundation and president of the Atlantic City Council, said the WNBA was proud of the players’ “engagement and passionate advocacy for non-violent solutions to difficult social issues” but the league expected them to comply with its uniform guidelines.
Tanisha Wright of the Liberty said the fines were “unfortunate.”
“We feel America has a problem with the police brutality with black lives around here, and we just want to use our voices and use our platform to advocate for that,” she said.
Her teammate Tina Charles posted on Instagram: “My teammates and I will continue to use our platform and raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement until the W.N.B.A. gives its support as it does for breast cancer awareness, Pride and other subject matters.”
The outrage prompted the league to rescind the fines. “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. She said the league would be using its break in play during the Olympics to work with players and players’ union “on ways for the players to make their views known to their fans and the public.”
Borders’ comments on Wednesday’s protest seem to indicate that the players would not face any disciplinary action for kneeling, but a league spokesperson did not answer Fortune‘s question on that point.