Lilian Min
Updated Jul 24, 2016 @ 11:34 am
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Indiana Fever v New York Liberty
Credit: Mike Stobe / NBAE via Getty Images

A few days ago, we were all flabbergasted at the WNBA’s decision to fine multiple teams of players for wearing #BlackLivesMatter shirts to games instead of their uniforms.

Today, the WNBA reversed its decision with a statement that promised player/league dialogue about how social activism can be incorporated into the league:

Before the WNBA changed its mind, the New York Liberty, Indiana Fever, and Phoenix Mercury were all fined $5000, with each player who participated in the uniform blackout fined an additional $500. This was on top of previous fines doled out to the Liberty and Fever.

Tina Charles, a Liberty player who was recently the WNBA’s Player of the Month, responded to the news of the WNBA’s new fee statement on Instagram (where she also shared a snappy photo of her U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team uniform):

There’s a long history of sports icons, let alone public figures in other fields, leveraging their celebrity for social causes — see the late Muhammed Ali, for example. For Charles and the many other women, particularly black women, in the WNBA, collective protest isn’t some upstart move they’re trying to pull to disrespect their profession or their fans; it’s a way to respond to and demand change for their community, their families.

The line between respectful and disrespectful protest and activism is oftentimes drawn by people who have stakes in upholding the organizations and systems being protested against. That the WNBA failed to see their own complicity in keeping their players’ voices down in the first place isn’t necessarily surprising, but surely disappointing. We’re pleased to hear about their reversal, and hope they and their players can reach a fruitful dialogue about not just why, but how these protests are important.