Is it OK for athletes to wear their political views on their sleeves?

As professional athletes protest the lack of an indictment in the Eric Garner case, leagues have loosened regulations and are publicly supporting players. Others disagree with activist tactics.

Ann Heisenfelt, AP Photo, File
Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, right, and teammates wear "I Can't Breathe" shirts during the national anthem before an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.

This month, professional athletes have joined a national conversation on racial injustice.

And while some coaches and league officials have supported these actions, some viewers have publicly disagreed, criticizing the method of protest or the messages themselves.

On Wednesday, professional basketball players stood with Eric Garner protesters. LaMarcus Aldridge, Will Barton, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and Dorell Wright — five members of the Portland Trail Blazers — wore black T-shirts emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe,” the last words of Mr. Garner, a black man who was choked and killed by a white police officer.

The five players wore the shirts during warm-ups, the national anthem, and introductions on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

The team's coach, Terry Stotts, expressed support for his players’ actions: “I think it’s good for our players to have a social conscience,” he told the Associated Press. And they weren't the only NBA players to speak out — they joined superstar LeBron James and several other players who wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts when the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Brooklyn Nets in New York.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, supports the players who have taken a stand:

As far as players making strong social statements, not surprisingly the often-outspoken Cuban fully supports them.

'I don’t have any problem with it,' he said Wednesday. 'I think non-violent protest and social discourse is great.

'The thing about NBA players probably more so than any other sport is they all have social media platforms,' Cuban added. 'And they have real followers, millions and millions in a lot of cases, so there’s a lot of ways for them to voice their concerns and state their opinions, and that’s their right to do. I’ve got no problem with it whatsoever.'

NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly was less enthusiastic than Mr. Stotts and Mr. Cuban, though he did not fine players for violating the association’s dress code.

“I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues, but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules,” he told Yahoo SportsThis dress code standardizes team gear and business-casual attire for courtside appearances.

The shirts follow a display of solidarity in the NFL. In early December, five members of the St. Louis Rams walked onto the field with their hands in the air, calling attention to the mid-August shooting of Michael Brown, and their coach expressed support for this display.

“They were exercising their right to free speech,” coach Jeff Fisher says to ESPN. “They will not be disciplined by the club nor will they be disciplined by the National Football League.

But outside of the league, St. Louis police criticized this action and urged the Rams and the league to apologize publicly.

"I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights," Jeff Roorda, the business manager of the city’s police officer association, says in a statement. "Well, I've got news for people who think that way: Cops have First Amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I'd remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser's products. It's cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it's not the NFL and the Rams, then it'll be cops and their supporters."

And on Fox News, senior correspondent Geraldo Rivera calls the "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts a "victimization mentality that says ‘we can only motivate when we are the victims.’”

Many social media users — including some celebrities — disagree, supporting activism like the basketball players' shirts on Twitter.

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