Why WNBA’s Atlanta Dream support co-owner’s political rival

Atlanta Dream players walk by the Black Lives Matter graphic on the court after a WNBA game on July 29 in Palmetto, Fla. (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Dream’s toughest opponent this year won’t be the 6-1 Seattle Storm, or any other team in the WNBA for that matter. Instead, it’s one of the team’s co-owners, U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler.

After first purchasing a minority stake in the Dream in 2010, Loeffler became a majority co-owner alongside Mary Brock the following year. However, her involvement with the team became well known to those outside the WNBA circle only after her negative comments about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement went public.

In early July, Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert opposing league-wide support of BLM, and also suggesting the league add American flags to all player jerseys. (By that point, the WNBA had already announced plans to feature the name of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her Louisville home by police on March 13, on opening-weekend jerseys.)

Not only is the WNBA a league where players are always on the forefront of social justice matters – they do it in solidarity. Along with wearing Taylor’s name on the back of their jerseys and donning BLM warm-up shirts that say “Say Her Name” on the back, the league took it one step further to stand together with Dream players against their team’s co-owner.

Last week, players from across the league wore shirts emblazoned with the words “Vote Warnock” — in support of Raphael G. Warnock, who is running against Loeffler in this fall’s election.

“For us, we felt like something that we’ve talked about is the importance of voting and … its role in the democratic process,” said Dream centre and WNBPA secretary Elizabeth Williams during a media availability on Aug. 5. “And so it just so happened that Reverend Warnock is running in this specific seat. He also supports Black Lives Matter and all that we as players have been fighting for and so for us, it’s just continuing to see effective policy change and effective social change.”

“It was a whole team decision — the whole league, the WNBA backed us up, with us personally being the team that’s been the target,” added Dream forward Shekinna Stricklen after the Dream’s game Thursday against the Storm. “It’s a great move for the whole league.”

Loeffler, a full-time politician, feels politics should be kept out of sports. But the league her team plays in clearly doesn’t share that opinion — and is far from afraid of saying so.

Putting voice to a sentiment shared by many, Natasha Cloud — a guard for the Washington Mystics who opted out of the season for advocacy reasons — tweeted the following:

Bringing social justice causes to the sport is nothing new for the WNBA. The league first made waves four years ago when four members of the Minnesota Lynx wore black T-shirts that read “Change Starts With Us” on the front, with the names of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling alongside the words “Black Lives Matter” on the back.

And while several players — including the Dream’s Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes — took this season off to focus on social justice efforts, one of the league’s best players in Lynx forward Maya Moore has put her basketball career on hold for two years now in order to push for criminal justice reform.

“In a league that consists of 80 per cent Black women and a space in sports [where] we don’t usually get credit in sports as much as men, we’re kind of inherently political in that sense,” Williams said. “We’re focusing our season on ‘Say Her Name’ because a lot of black women, their names are lost in the conversation when it comes to police brutality and social justice.”

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