BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Three words that have the strength to empower a community, divide a nation; and more pointedly, provoke censorship of professional athletes.
WNBA players of the Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty and Indiana Fever stood in solidarity to send an anti-violence message in response to the senseless killings that have gripped the nation throughout the month. Following the deaths by police officers of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the fatal attacks of five Dallas cops, WNBA players wore solemn facial expressions and black warmup tshirts to protest each murder. The Lynx’s Maya Moore, Liberty’s Tina Charles, Fever’s Tamika Catchings, and their teammates, used their privilege and platforms to unite against police brutality and gun violence; just as they’d done following the heinous mass shooting of the LGBTQ community in Orlando, FL. Then, WNBA president Lisa Borders, commended the women for their actions. “We have a platform that is incredibly helpful in situations like this as sports is an international language…Sports is a sector that brings people together in today’s environment where there is so much polarization. Our teams, all 12 of them, are doing wonderful things, from moments of silence to wearing shooting shirts. There is an array of activity across the league and country, and we are very, very proud,” she said. Now, Borders is denouncing their activism and levying fines against the teams ($5,000) and players ($500) who have engaged in acts of social change. Borders defended the league’s sanctions and noted a violation of its uniform policy. “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.” Guidelines that were in place and overlooked for the Orlando shooting, and yet enforced for protesting Black Lives Matter.
For those wondering why #BlackLiveMatters exists, look no further. This is why #BlackLivesMatters exists.
Black Lives Matters was a necessary and long overdue response to hundreds of years of oppression, injustice, marginalization, and dehumanization. Whether it’s the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Clause, which labeled slaves as three-fifths of a person, to Blacks not voting “freely” until 1965. Or, today and the lack of clean drinking water still unavailable to the citizens and residents of the predominately Black city of Flint, Michigan. Or, the lack of representation in boardrooms, C-suites, and among many other exclusionary spaces; Black people have a perpetual history of enduring great suffering and being highly devalued in the United States of America.
Conversely, the fight for women’s rights and gender equality has gained momentum. And the push toward condemning homophobic laws and policies have rightfully become the new norm. While the WNBA was making headlines for fining its stars yesterday, the NBA announced its unprecedented decision to relocate the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte, NC in protest to the state’s anti-LGBTQ law. Both are signs of progress suggesting that the lives of women and the LGBTQ community matter, while the callous treatment of Black bodies — both physical and psychological — remains prevalent within society.
When police officers unjustly shoot to kill and don’t pay the price for the loss of life, that sends the message that Black lives DON’T matter. When professional organizations use fear tactics to silence voices for fighting for the civil liberties of Black people, and were praised for similar actions in favor of other marginalized communities, that sends the message that Black lives DON’T matter. When groups co-opt #BlackLivesMatter, an expression of empowerment and solidarity, and disparagingly appropriate it to #BlueLivesMatter for self-gratuitous purposes, that sends the message that Black lives DON’T matter.
Why doesn’t Black Lives Matter warrant the same unequivocal support as women’s issues, gay rights, or the vilification of cop killers?
For far too long, the fear of losing game checks or endorsement dollars have resulted in passive behavior from athletes. However, the recent rash of events have sparked an urgency among sport’s stars and a call-to-action to echo the message #BlackLivesMatter and demand change. In response to the fines, Liberty and Fever players implemented a media blackout and refused to address game related questions. Instead, they informed the media they’d only answer questions related to the scope of issues they’ve been protesting. Whether its making a statement at home, or in the near future on the world’s greatest stage at the Olympics, yesterday’s actions by WNBA players sent the message that there’s no amount of money assignable to the precious and priceless Black lives unjustly robbed of their breath. No fine, suspension, or other form of censorship, can buy athletes’ silence. The tipping point has finally been reached among fed up Black folks, and more specifically WNBA players. And now more than ever before, WNBA players are pressuring the league to stand on the right side of justice and challenging them to answer the question: If Black Lives Matter to you, why punish those who say Black Lives Matter to them too?