Fines or not, WNBA got it right with this controversy

  • Chicago Sky forward Jessica Breland is a WNBA player who understands the league's relationship with the media.

    Chicago Sky forward Jessica Breland is a WNBA player who understands the league's relationship with the media. Associated Press

Updated 7/23/2016 9:10 PM

If you walked into your office wearing a shirt that was deemed by your bosses to be inappropriate, controversial or inflammatory, and your bosses told you that the shirt could not be worn at the office, what would you do?

Well, if you wanted to keep your job, you'd probably ditch the shirt.


Businesses that are private can make their own rules about all kinds of issues, even issues that touch on individualism and freedom of speech.

We're not talking about entities such as schools and government offices, which are run by tax dollars and located on public property. For instance, when a local, public school tells a kid that he can't wear a shirt with an American flag on it, that's a bit of a problem.

Private businesses are different. When private businesses enforce rules, even rules that seem somewhat suppressive to the individual, that's called "life in the real world."

The WNBA is a private business. And it's a business that has rules.

Yet, some WNBA players were upset that the league was penalizing them for breaking its rules before the fines were rescinded Saturday. These players wore black, nonregulation T-shirts during pregame warmups that support the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

The league had levied fines this week against players from the New York Liberty, the Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury, as well as each of those three teams.

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Some players took to Twitter and other social-media platforms to voice their disgust. And some of those same players elected to engage in a soft boycott of the media, agreeing to speak to the media only about issues relating to the movement, not about issues relating to basketball.

I am happy to report that players from the Chicago Sky did not participate in this ridiculous media boycott. Jessica Breland and Cappie Pondexter spoke to the media after Friday's loss to the Connecticut Sun at the Allstate Arena.

Breland told me that she wanted to speak to the media with a business-as-usual approach, because she appreciates all media coverage, and she wouldn't want to jeopardize that because media attention helps drive the league.

"You guys are the reason we have a league," Breland said.

Also, Breland said that if she wants to speak out on an issue, there are many other ways for her to go about doing that.


Amen, Jessica. Why players from the WNBA, which is starving for media attention, would want to alienate reporters who cover their games and had nothing to do with the ban on their T-shirts is beyond me.

Maybe the players believe they have no other recourse that will get the league's attention. But, still, it's an ill-conceived response. The WNBA can't afford to lose any media followers.

Also, Breland was spot on about using her voice in other ways.

Some WNBA players and professional athletes from other sports are making a big deal about how WNBA players should be allowed to use their "platform" to support causes they believe in.

Yes, they should. But not at work. Not if the rules at work say they shouldn't, or if their bosses are against that.

For WNBA players, the basketball court is their office. And they should respect the rules of their office and their bosses, especially if they want to continue working at that office.

However, no one, including league president Lisa Borders, has said that WNBA players can't support causes they believe while they are off the court, or outside of the office, so to speak.

In fact, Borders has encouraged WNBA players to be socially, politically and civilly active. Just on their own time.

WNBA players, because they are public figures to a degree, still have a powerful platform, even when they aren't in uniform, or in a WNBA arena.

They can reach out to the media pretty much at any time, and they will get an audience. They can speak at kids camps and other public gatherings about whatever they believe in. No one is stopping them from doing that.

I think this whole issue got overblown by the players. No one is trying to stop them from supporting a cause, or speaking their minds.

The league is simply trying to enforce rules that it believes will be good for business, rules that will create an environment at its games that will not alienate or exclude any fans, no matter their political discourse or private opinions.

The WNBA has this right.

And, like it or not, the league and its teams sign the checks.

Yep, that's life in the real world.

• Follow Patricia on Twitter @babcockmcgraw

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