MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Lynx have heard it all since they donned black shirts before a game in remembrance of two men who were shot by police and the five Dallas police officers who were killed in an attack last week.
They have been hailed as crusaders for using their platform to start a dialogue about the issue of police violence. They were also told they should just shut up and play ball.
They have seen a social media campaign sprout to pack the Target Center for Friday night's game against the New York Liberty — another team that has been outspoken in its response to the shootings — and also watched off-duty police officers walk away from their security jobs at a game in response to their stand.
"I'm not surprised by either. It's a very emotional time in our community," Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson said. "We were just excited about the voices that we heard. It's all about the dialogue we can create. We were happy that people were speaking up to allow that dialogue to happen."
Both the Lynx and the Liberty say they will continue to engage the public on the subject throughout the rest of the season in an effort to effect change. The players do so knowing that both the WNBA and NBA have a long history of giving their players the freedom to express themselves on political and social justice issues.
"You understand when you take a position like that that there is going to be the good and the bad and the ugly at times that you'll have to face," Liberty veteran Swin Cash said. "If you stand on something you believe in and you're committed to making change, then you understand the risks that come with it."
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said she consulted with WNBA President Lisa Borders while the team was deciding what to do, culminating with them wearing black shirts that had the victims' names — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota — along with a Dallas Police Department logo and the message "Change starts with us. Justice & Accountability."
"We appreciate like crazy the support we've gotten, particularly from the league," Reeve said. "For Rebekkah to feel like when you're going to work and the people around you support you and not just in things that benefit them, it makes you proud to go work for that organization."
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he fully supported players letting their voices be heard.
"I actually think it demonstrates that these are multidimensional people," Silver said. "They live in this society, and they have strong views about how things should be. So I'm very encouraging of that."
Liberty star Tina Charles said that the support she feels she has from both Borders and Silver has empowered her.
"Especially when it's hurting the society, especially when it's not just you that is hurting but other individuals," Charles said. "So the fact that I have some power, I use that as a sounding board to reflect what Adam Silver is saying, that you should use your platform to show how you feel, especially in the crisis that we have right now."
Silver did say he had issues with teams or individual players changing their warmup uniforms to make those statements.
"I think it's a very slippery slope," he said. "As to where you would draw the line when it's appropriate for a particular player to use that, use a game, pregame, as a political forum, I think it's a dangerous road for us to go down. So I would greatly prefer that the players use the platform they're given, social media, press conferences, media in locker rooms, however they want to do it, to make their political points of view be known."
The Lynx have decided not to wear their shirts again this season and have turned their focus toward other means to continue addressing the subject. In a compromise with the league, the Liberty are now wearing plain black warmup t-shirts with the adidas logo on it.
Players on both teams said that they won't stop with a shirt.
"I think we made a pretty strong stand," Brunson said. "Right now we're trying to focus on what's next. The shirts were where we started, where we began to speak and use our voice. Now we're trying to figure out what's next, who we can use our voice to be more impactful beyond a shirt to help this time."