The WNBA faces enormous challenges on a nightly basis from a product and ratings standpoint — simply because the woman’s game doesn’t provide the highlight reel dunks or star power that comes with their NBA brethren.
When you’re talking about a league looking to raise viewership and revenue — while also trying to escape the shadow of the NBA in the sports landscape — blunders like the one WNBA President Lisa Borders seems intent on making over the players support of the Black Lives Matter movement — could turn out to be more costly than first imagined.
While talking to reporters — Borders said she applauds the league’s players for taking a stance on social issues — but would prefer the activism be kept off the court.
“We were making every effort to engage our players,” she told The Associated Press by phone Friday night. “We made an effort to support them and we were trying to get them to come to the table to have a conversation. The players have an open invitation with the league.
“Our players are important to us. We believe in them. We want them to be the people they are and we’re proud of them. We want to make sure they play well on the court and they are happy off the court.”
Borders has reportedly spent the past two weeks talking with the union trying to help her players properly address the Black Lives Matters movement, and I guess fining them was the only solution league brass could come up with.
Players from the Fever, Liberty and Mercury — that aren’t making millions like the athletes in the NBA — were fined $500 each this week for wearing plain black warmup shirts that violated the league’s uniform policy. Each team also was fined $5,000.
I’m sure extreme measures such as the fines, will convince star players to not take the summer off, when they’re making more money overseas anyway.
Players have been wearing shirts saying “Black Lives Matters” in the locker room after their games and only answering questions about the movement out of protest about the fines. The frustrations have been loud, and obvious according to these statements.
“We’re sick and tired of waking up every morning and seeing something like this (shootings) happen,” Mystics player Ivory Latta said after her team played its final game before the Olympic break. “We need change and we have a platform to speak. Don’t tell us we have a platform and then you penalize us for our platform for speaking and showing our actions. That’s not right.”
Borders just started her job — she’s gaining the reputation as a boss who wants to “suppress the voice” of her players — and yet she still doesn’t get the point.
“We want the players to know that we have supported them in the past, support them today and will continue to support them in the future,” she said. “We’re not trying to stop them from expressing themselves.”
“The Adidas black shirts are not regulation,” Borders said. “They are sponsor appropriate, but the Adidas plain black shirt would not be a regulation-issued shirt.”
The WNBA can take a deep breath — with the players and the league taking a monthlong break — with its top players playing in Rio at the Olympics.
Borders says she “loves the players and the league” — but the fact that the Rev. Al Sharpton had to get involved — volunteering to pay the fines — is just unacceptable.
Far too often we scream out for our athletes to lead the charge and voice their opinions — yet we don’t deem the loud and united response from those ladies as being worthy of our appreciation.
Adam Silver didn’t dare fine the NBA players — after they followed Derrick Rose — wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts — to honor Eric Garner.
Silver and the NBA follow a strict uniform code — but the commissioner isn’t crazy or out of his mind. Borders suppressing her players in a league that is 90 African-American is alarming and a double standard.
The fact that she herself is a woman, makes it worse.
So as the NBA stands in alliance with the LGBT community and not backing North Carolina’s bathroom bill — the WNBA has abandoned their players in a moment when most fill this country and their people are in crisis.
I truly believe will look back on this moment, and the leagues reaction to players supporting a cause they deem urgent, if trouble about the WNBA surviving come up again.