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Protesters demand Isiah Thomas admit to sexual harassment

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Members of advocacy group Members of Br{ache the Silence wear shirts saying 'I Am Anucha Browne' during Friday's protest of Liberty president Isiah Thomas.Ken Goldfield

Members of advocacy group Members of Br{ache the Silence wear shirts saying ‘I Am Anucha Browne’ during Friday’s protest of Liberty president Isiah Thomas.

The crowd was sparse but the message was clear from protesters outside Madison Square Garden before the Liberty’s season opener Friday night: They want Isiah Thomas to own up.

Members of Br{ache the Silence, an organization co-founded by Nevin Caple in 2011 to combat homophobia and sexism in sports, gathered near the Garden’s Seventh Ave. entrance around 6:35 p.m. wearing black t-shirts with white lettering which read “I Am Anucha Browne,” in support of the former Knicks executive who in 2007 accused Thomas, then-Knicks president and current Liberty president as of last month, of sexual harassment. Thomas is also set to become a part owner of the Liberty, though the league’s Board of Governors is reviewing his ownership application.

There were roughly 20 people wearing the t-shirts, most of whom were attending the game against Atlanta. Caple said her group was calling for Thomas to acknowledge his role in creating a hostile work environment and to apologize for saying in a deposition for Browne’s lawsuit that it’s more acceptable for a black man to call a black woman a bitch than for a white man to do the same.

“I think when you look at some of the nuances around that, in a league that is made up of primarily women of color who answer to Isiah Thomas, it’s problematic,” Caple said outside the Garden. “He’s made racist and sexist comments, and he does pose a threat to women in the league. His inability to kind of acknowledge his past and just say ‘I’m sorry and this is how we can all be better,’ is a problem. I don’t see any sort of remorse or any sort of desire to make sure that he’s able to let people know that he has the players’ best interests at heart.”

The Garden released yet another statement Friday afternoon, hours before the start of the WNBA season, claiming Browne dismissed her complaint and “accepted that MSG and Mr. Thomas did not admit guilt or concede any wrongdoing,” despite a federal jury siding with Browne.

“Nothing’s changed,” Caple said about the statement. “I’d like to believe in a positive outcome, but I don’t trust the leadership. Until Thomas gives me and the community and the players a reason to trust him, he doesn’t deserve it. They’re still in denial.”

Asked about the statement at a pregame press conference, Thomas tried to shift the focus to the players.

“I’m not here to talk about the past,” he said. “I’m only here to talk about the New York Liberty.”

He said “the statement speaks for itself,” when asked about the protest outside the building. Pressed on it again, Thomas replied “If you have Liberty basketball questions, that’d be great.”

Caple said the message for the shirt was chosen because she sees an attempt to silence Browne despite her showing courage by speaking out against and suing the Garden. Browne claimed she was fired after complaining about what she believed were

“Not only did she take MSG to court, but she won,” Caple said. “She made them pay $ 11(.5) million, and that’s a big deal. For them to say – their response to just be a general statement, ‘We didn’t agree with her then and we don’t agree with her now,’ is unacceptable.”

Caple organized the protesters into a semi-circle connected by holding hands and asked each of them to state why he or she was proud to wear the shirts and support Browne.

“I was sexually harassed in the workplace. I am Anucha Browne,” one protester said.

“Anucha Browne stood up for people who stay silent. I am Anucha Browne,” added another.

“I am a Liberty season ticket holder. I believe all women deserve respect. I am Anucha Browne,” a fellow protester followed.

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