July 15, 2016

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 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.''

Addressing such a sensitive topic in such a public fashion can be tricky - particularly for the league - and the players say they do so with the comfort that WNBA President Lisa Borders and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have encouraged them to speak their minds when social issues are important to them.

''We appreciate like crazy the support we've gotten, particularly from the league,'' Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. ''For Rebekkah (Brunson) 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.''

Silver has long been an advocate of players standing up for issues they believe in and the league has been vocal in addressing issues of race, gender and equality in society.

''I actually think it demonstrates that these are multidimensional people,'' Silver said Tuesday. ''They live in this society, and they have strong views about how things should be. So I'm very encouraging of that.''

But it was clear, too, that there are limits.

Silver said he would prefer if teams do not alter their uniforms for warmups the way the Lynx and Liberty have done.

''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 NBA and WNBA have lucrative contracts with adidas for in-game apparel, including jerseys and warmup attire.

The Lynx have already said they only planned to wear the shirts for one game and now will shift their focus to addressing the issue in other ways. The Liberty reached what the players called a compromise in which they will wear plain black shirts bearing only the adidas logo.

''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.''

Reeve said the Lynx understand of some of the limitations, and players have and will continue to write messages on the shoes that they wear during the games as Breanna Stewart did with the victims of the Orlando night club shooting.

''When you get on the court then you start talking about sponsors of the shirts you're wearing and things like that, it's really not about wanting to silence or not put forth in a public arena,'' Reeve said. ''You start entering into other realms of consideration beyond us.''

Reeve said she consulted with 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.''

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.''

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.''

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