Borders, using ‘bully pulpit,’ defends W players’ rights to speak freely

Lisa Borders in her second year might be the first WNBA president to use her “bully pulpit.” This historic occasion took place in Seattle July 22 during Borders’ midseason address to reporters, including the MSR, before the All-Star Game.

No pro league in America seems as widely disparaged with so much hostility, even hatred to quote Snagglepuss, as is the W. Players and true-blue supporters are constantly having to defend its existence and true major league status on a regular basis. The league is constantly fighting its whipping-girl status among its detractors.

As players always are expected to adjust, Borders learned fairly quickly nearly a year ago that she heads a league of women unafraid to speak out in their own defense when necessary.

Lisa Borders (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Last July, in basketball lingo, Borders committed a turnover after she fined players for wearing protest shirts during warm-ups. She warned them not to do so again or be subject to lighter paychecks.

But two teams ignored the warning — the first time Borders’ presidential authority was challenged. As a result, as Madame President noted last weekend, she did “a course correction” and rescinded the fines.

Continuing our hoops lingo, social media should get an assist since Borders was oft-criticized for her initial move but later applauded for her step-back retreat from her original decision.

“My grandfather, who is now deceased, used to tell us, ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason, so you can listen twice as much as you talk,” Borders said. “So I’m learning to listen more and listen better to our players.”

This is good leadership that should be praised, not panned. I wonder if other pro sports leaders — all males — took notice of what Borders did: right a wrong and move forward.

Borders furthermore advised us to expect to see her players continue to speak out in any and all platforms at their disposal, and that she supports this. “These are young women who are mature, who have very clear ideas about who they are and what they want to do, so I’ve learned to listen better,” said the W president.

She pointed out that her league truly is a diverse one –—Black, White, U.S.-born, foreign natives, sexual orientations and lifestyle varieties. Misconceptions be damned: The WNBA is too often misjudged, fighting unfair apples-oranges comparisons.

Madame President stood tall behind her pulpit and spoke eloquently, alternating back and forth between personal reflections and praise for players, remaining respectful all the way through.

“I come from the segregated South. Atlanta is my home city. I grew up in the South in the 1960s. It was a difficult time,” admitted Borders.

“This is an equally difficult time. We used to think that you could legislate behavior, you could just pass a law and everything would be okay. We know that’s not true. You have to change the hearts and minds of people and put a face on some of the issues that we encounter.

“We should be able to choose who we love, what we do with our bodies, how we feel about public safety, how we feel about education. We shouldn’t have to defend ourselves and our right to speak up and have perspective on anything we want to talk about,” she stated.

“Women’s rights are also civil rights today. This is the next iteration…of where our society needs to focus.

“Our players are engaged,” she said. “They are focused like a laser on the work that they do with their bodies and on the court when they perform every day, but equally so on what’s going on in the community, in our country and in our world.

“That means we’re in awfully good hands with this next generation taking on leadership roles, whether they are truly elected in a traditional sense or whether they are leading by example here in arena or out in the community.

“It started last season, it has carried right over into this season, whether it’s Tina Charles talking about race or Sue Bird talking about being gay,” concluded Borders.

Then she dropped the mic and left her bully pulpit.


Read more on Lisa Borders’ All-Star press conference in “In the W” on this week’s sports page.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to