Now that WNBA has a do-over, it must work with players on how to use their platform

Sometimes it takes making a mistake first to make the right decision. It's probably happened at least once to everybody. This past week, it happened to the WNBA.

Fining players for wearing "non-compliant" warm-up shirts in regard to their support of the "Black Lives Matter" movement initially might have seemed to be a mere procedural matter to the WNBA and president Lisa Borders.

Of course, it was far from that. It upset the league's players and a lot of the fans, and it sent a message that something they felt so passionately about was not a priority for the league.

Saturday's reversal was a good decision. And players such as Phoenix's Mistie Bass, who spoke so eloquently about the fines and the message they sent, were pleased to see the league change course.

"It shows that our voices matter, and so do we as players," Bass said via text message Saturday. "It's never too late to do the right thing. Now we all have an opportunity to come together and discuss how we can move forward."

It isn't an easy thing to publicly say, "We've reconsidered." There is a stodgy narrative that suggests that changing your mind about a decision leads to an undermining of your authority.

In truth, though, it's often just the opposite. Not budging from a bad decision actually erodes authority, and that's initially what was happening in regard to the players and Borders, who took over as WNBA president earlier this year.

Now, the players have reason to believe that Borders really is a reasonable and responsive leader who might have misgauged their passion on this subject, or perhaps just didn't realize they would strongly push back.

Borders was in Atlanta city government for several years, has worked in the upper levels of business administration, and definitely knows her way around corporate America. But the job of WNBA president presents some challenges that are different than previous leadership positions she's held.

All four WNBA presidents have had to try to establish their own authority, while at the same time answering to NBA authority. They've had to juxtapose the relentless optimism part of the job with the realism required for the business world.

These are things that Borders is still figuring out, and that's understandable. But this past week can be filed away as a valuable lesson in several ways: from the need to get out in front of a potentially difficult topic (which the league didn't do in this situation), to having more faith in old-fashioned communication.

I don't think it's being nave or idealizing WNBA players to say that they are very educated, reasonable and respectful. While I understand the "slippery slope" aspect about rules that prohibit modifying uniforms, I don't believe that should be a big future worry of the WNBA.

That's because it's highly unlikely that players are going to try to push a bunch of agendas via their uniforms. In short, I have a lot of faith in their common sense.

But the fact that they have worn WNBA-sanctioned "alterations" -- in the form of warm-up T-shirts -- that convey messages of support for various concerns, that leaves the avenue of "on-court activism" as a viable option when it's supported by the entire league.

Which gets us down to the heart of the issue, doesn't it? The players thought this was an obvious issue in which the WNBA should channel its commitment to community involvement, awareness and activism. The players approached it with a sense of unity and utmost urgency.

It seems the league viewed it as potentially controversial and thus worrisome. That's where better communication and dialogue were needed. Sending out a memo in corporate speak in regard to an issue that many WNBA players see as a matter of life and death for their own families and loved ones was a classic case of turning something negotiable into something almost hostile.

Now, it can return to being negotiable. The players have a message, and they want to use their platform as professional athletes to voice it. They want to help build bridges between law enforcement and all communities.

The fact that the WNBA players have been so vocal and so emotionally committed on this subject tells you that this is an area where they truly believe that they can help affect positive changes. They wanted to feel their league was really 100 percent behind them. And while I certainly haven't polled the entirety of WNBA fandom, the majority of fans seemed to support the players in this.

Some observers might suspect the WNBA rescinded the fines not out of a desire to effectively collaborate with the players on this initiative, but because fining them was just causing too much negative publicity. I'd choose not to be that cynical, but maybe it is a mixture of both.

Regardless, the WNBA has a kind of do-over on this topic that can get the league and its players on the same page, which is where everyone can do the most good.

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