Before Friday's 95-75 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks, the Washington Mystics entered pre-game warmups in "Black Lives Matter" shirts. The shirts are in part a response to recent police shootings of African American men.
In recent weeks, several African Americans were shot by police officers. Two men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed. Another man, Charles Kinsey was shot earlier this week but is recovering.
After the game, Mystics players did not speak to the media about basketball. In fact, multiple WNBA teams have decided to wear black warm-up shirts and refused to answer any questions about basketball.
In this video below from My Mind on Sports, center Kia Vaughn stated that the Mystics will continue to wear the shirts until there is some resolution.
#MediaBlackout #WNBAUnity #BlackLivesMatter Tonight's Post Game Wasn't About Basketball. The @officialwashingtonmystics Stand As One To Address The Media. We Thank You @kianiema @t_cloud4 @babyivey12 @trp14 @breezyyy14 @bigmamastef @t_hawk21 @taylerhill_4 @ally_malott @emma_meesseman @_klc215 @jweisner @wnba #WNBA #MyMindOnSports #MMOS #WashingtonMystics #DC #NYC
And here's a team photo:
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -MLK #WewillNOTbesilenced #BlackLivesMatter @WNBA pic.twitter.com/F3gZTx6fIi— Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) July 23, 2016
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was one of the lead organizers for the Mystics' Media Blackout according to Lindsay Gibbs of Think Progress and Excelle Sports.
For Ruffin-Pratt specifically, police shootings hit very close to home for her. Her cousin, Julian Dawkins, was shot and killed by Craig Patterson, an Arlington County deputy sheriff on the day she made the Mystics squad in 2013. Patterson was ultimately convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison in 2014.
A cop killed Ruffin-Pratt's cousin the day she made the @WashMystics. She helped organize the team's media blackout. pic.twitter.com/3js1kLOhCm— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) July 23, 2016
Ruffin-Pratt made the teams' BLM shirts. She teared up when talking about her cousin, said she will honor him by being part of the change.— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) July 23, 2016
Finally, according to Nina Mandell of USA Today's For The Win, Monumental Sports has been supportive of the players. Natasha Cloud said that it was "huge" that the organization was that way. She was a bit frustrated about the league, however.
"This league is behind it, so we’re not sure where this hesitation lies," Cloud said. "We understand, we’re not bashing our league at all but we would just like a little support. The league was quick to jump on the Orlando (mass shooting) and we fully supported that but we’re kind of frustrated that we’re picking and choosing which events we want to support and which we don’t."
The Mystics' actions were part of a "Media Blackout" in response to fines that the WNBA gave on Wednesday to the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, and Phoenix Mercury and all of their players because they altered their uniforms by wearing plain black shirts instead of their regular designated warm-up shirts. The shirts in question were plain black Adidas shirts with the company logo clearly visible.
Here is what the Liberty wore on Wednesday when they played the Mystics and a link on what more teams have been doing.
WNBA players stage media blackout after being fined for wearing Black Lives Matter shirts. https://t.co/IlicZ9gsV2 pic.twitter.com/pLLVMAECWW— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) July 22, 2016
The WNBA and all of its teams wear Adidas uniforms and warm-up apparel, like the NBA.
In a statement to the AP, WNBA President Lisa Borders was sympathetic with the players standing up for social issues, but "[expected] them to comply with the league's uniform guidelines."
WNBPA Union President and Fever forward Tamika Catchings wasn't happy with the fines in this interview with Excelle Sports after a home game on Thursday:
The main issue at hand that WNBA players have is that they didn't want their voices silenced over various social issues that they care about, police brutality, in particular toward African Americans being one of them.
It should be known that player attire protests aren't new in professional basketball. Several NBA players, including LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets wore "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts in December 2014 after Eric Garner was choked to death by a police officer. No player was fined, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was supportive of them, though he did prefer that they follow uniform guidelines.
Knicks and Team USA star Carmelo Anthony also supports the WNBA players' actions and doesn't like the fines. He, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade opened the 2016 ESPY's with a group speech to encourage social activism in regard to the shootings and racism in general.
No current Wizards players have said anything on their own as of yet, but Etan Thomas gave his support:
Much Respect to @SwinCash #TanishaWright @tinacharles31 @Catchin24 & all the brave @WNBA players taking a standhttps://t.co/OwqDTMMcrB— Etan Thomas (@etanthomas36) July 22, 2016
and Bradley Beal retweeted a couple WNBA players' tweets as well.
Beal has also been quite vocal about the issue in general. This was his take on those who aren't comfortable with him taking a stand, in case you missed it earlier this month.
The WNBA is now officially in its Olympic Break to allow players to compete in the Olympic Games. But I don't expect to see players, especially those on the USA Basketball women's national team to be silent on it for a few weeks as they prepare to make a run for their sixth consecutive Gold Medal. I also expect to see more NBA players speaking on the issue as well with this becoming a significant story in the last few days.