What happened to these players is as clear a case of misogyny as we’ve ever seen.
In December 2014, when two NBA teams, the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, faced off during the regular season in New York, the players decided to take a moment during warm-ups to make a statement about the escalation of police brutality against Black people in America.
It was fitting. Black Lives Matter was in its second year. Months before, in July, police officers turned another black body into a hashtag when they wrestled Eric Garner to the ground and choked him to death for selling cigarettes. Desperately struggling for air, Garner uttered the words “I can’t breathe” 11 times before losing consciousness.
Four months later, these two teams decided to wear black tees with the words “I can’t breathe” across the front on the court during warm-ups. Cavs leader Lebron James, who had previously spoken out about the murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, told reporters:
“It’s just for us to make a [statement] to understand what we’re going through as a society. I’ve been quoted over and over about what’s going on as far as it’s more of a notion to the family, more than anything. Obviously, as a society we have to do better. We have to be better for one another. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s more of a shout-out to the family more than anything, because they’re the ones that should be getting all the energy and effort.”
Neither team was criticized for giving “energy and effort” to the Garner family. No player was punished for making a statement about an important social issue outside the sports world. On the contrary; they were celebrated for leveraging their fame to bring attention this great problem at the center of the movement for Black Lives.
Fast-forward to 2016. On July 10, two WNBA teams scheduled to compete with each other — the New York Liberty and the Indiana Fever — decided to stage an on-court protest of their own and make a statement about the most recent incidents of police brutality that left Alton Sterling and Philando Castile dead.
Like the Cavs and Nets, players from both teams wore black tees during warm-up. However, WNBA officials responded to their athletes not with praise and admiration but with financial repercussions. Each team was fined $5,000 and individual players $500.
Lets run that back.
Women basketball players were fined for behaving in the exact same way that their male counterparts had done two years ago without incurring any financial reprisal.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that what happened to the players of Liberty and Fever is an unmistakable case of misogynoir. It reeks of it, actually.
However, the players aren’t taking this sexist slight in silence.
On Thursday, during the press coverage following another face-off, the players doubled down on their right to use their platform to address police violence and criticized the WNBA’s unwillingness to support them as African American women. Liberty guard Tanisha Wright said:
“We want to be able to use our platforms. We want to be able to use our voices. We don’t want to let anybody silence us and what we want to talk about. It’s unfortunate that the WNBA has fined us and not supported its players.”
Both teams ignored basketball-related questions and spent the entire interview hammering home the injustice of the criminal justice system and of the fines they were penalized with for speaking up about it.
Fever player representative Briann Johnson also weighed in on ESPN:
“What’s most upsetting is the way it was handled. You have a league that is 90 — if not above 90 — percent African-American and you have an issue that is directly affecting them and the people they know and you have a league that isn’t willing to side with them.”
As of now, the only player from the NBA who has spoken out about unjust fines against Liberty and Fever is New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony:
“I don’t see no reason to fine them. If anything you should want to support them. I don’t know details, but don’t see a reason to fine them.”