The Washington Mystics hosted the Los Angeles Sparks last night at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. It would be the last night of contests before a month long break for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The Mystics struggled to find a rhythm last night and couldn’t find an answer to slow down the best team in the league
That wasn’t the biggest story though, it went much further than the 94 feet of hardwood. Over the last couple of weeks, the WNBA and it’s players have found themselves on different sides of an important issue.
In the era of social media, it’s very easy for fans and athletes to interact with each other. It also gives athletes a platform, or a “voice” so to speak. So they don’t have to go through the media to share their thoughts anytime one would like to. With the recent streak of tragedies across the country as of late and in the past, WNBA players are taking a unified stance. The issue is that the league, much like the NBA want their players to interact and voice their opinion, just so much as it’s not inside the 94 foot playing area.
That would be easy to accept if there weren’t a precedent already in place. For several causes, professional leagues routinely recognize those communities and individuals affected. The first that comes to mind was the horrific attack in Orlando on the LGBT community, the league did an outstanding job showing support. There were warmup shirts issued to every team that were worn for several games, showing those individuals affected and those that have empathy for mankind that the WNBA realizes that plight and is with them in that dark time.
The NFL has a month for Breast Cancer Awareness which they do a wonderful job of essentially turning the league pink. All of the gear, well accessories (gloves, headbands, cleats) worn by players are made available to fans for purchase. The league makes sure it is known that they support Breast Cancer Research, the issue of the proceeds (conflicted reports, is another issue), but the point here is that they show their support unabashedly.
The NBA does it’s part as well, every February it appears that they get better at recognizing Black History Month. Several shoe companies get extremely creative and produce product that pays homage to that community. Media outlets have started to put together better content and mini-series to inform fans of accomplishments by African-Americans that some may not be aware of.
“We are proud of WNBA players’ engagement and passionate advocacy for non-violent solutions to difficult social issues but expect them to comply with the league’s uniform guidelines” – Lisa Borders, WNBA President
Back to the issue at hand, the league has put itself in a tough position by taking it’s current stance. If that is the case than the t-shirts made to support those affected by the tragedy in Orlando shouldn’t have seen the court. Should have been worn in media sessions according to what’s now being said about the players and their support for “Black Lives Matter”. That precedent is the issue here, especially when it’s fresh in everyone’s mind. It sends a very mixed message on when it’s okay to stand united and when it’s not.
There is plenty for the league to be celebrating this season, 20 years of the league being in existence. The Los Angeles Sparks got off to the best start in league history, they also have two players in the MVP conversation. The number one overall selection in this year’s draft is living up to the hype and Seattle now has two huge building blocks going forward. The WNBA entered it’s first season with a new playoff format that makes the regular season even more important. A league that continues to grow, a game that is ever evolving. Every single one of these positives has been nearly erased or flat out ignored in this recent news cycle regarding fines for the “media blackouts” by the players.
The fines that have been issued aren’t a large amount in the realm of professional sports, but the WNBA pay scale (another story for another day) isn’t exactly on par with the MLB or even the NFL. Most of the league’s players make a significant amount of their career earnings overseas, not considering endorsements of course.
The show of solidarity by the league’s players is even more impressive considering that pay scale, or lack there of. They honestly don’t care about the money lost, it’s about their voice being heard. Whether you support the league as a hardcore fan, a casual fan, or only know the league exists now because of these fines, it’s clear that the players deserve respect for standing up for what they believe in.
From talking with multiple players, this isn’t going to go away anytime soon. They are extremely committed to starting a conversation, more importantly to “open a line of communication” with not only the league, but mankind about the issues that affect nearly 70% of the league.
As the WNBA heads into it’s break, it’s great to reflect on the fun basketball that has been played to this point. Great to look forward to the Olympic games even, but as the players have made very clear. Some things are bigger than basketball, this is one of those subjects and times.