Commentary: Election defeat makes it official, Kelly Loeffler is bad for WNBA’s business
There is no amount of distance the WNBA or the Dream can put between themselves and Loeffler that will make people forget they are intertwined.
Now that Georgians have kicked Kelly Loeffler to the curb, the WNBA needs to do the same.
Yes, payback is a large part of the reason, and I’ll get to that. But this is also about business, and the WNBA can no longer ignore the fact that Loeffler is a liability. An even greater one than the Atlanta Dream’s co-owner already was these past few months, given that whatever clout or cachet Loeffler might have brought to the league as a U.S. senator is now gone.
Even in a pandemic, when Americans’ minds were obviously on other things, the WNBA showed signs of both strength and drawing power last summer. The league got more airtime than ever before, and ratings were up. The players’ social justice work, and the recognition that this has been a focus of theirs for years, won them new fans and prompted others to take a second look.
The WNBA needs to build on that, and Loeffler’s continued ownership stake in the Atlanta Dream will only detract from those efforts. Just look at some of the responses to the Dream’s tweet on Wednesday morning asking all those who are praising WNBA players now to continue showing their support next season.
“Love the team and the players but can’t support you as long @SenatorLoeffler is an owner,” one said.
“Let’s say I wanted to buy some gear for myself and my ladies as a big-time thank you for using your platform and voices in a major way … how much of that money does Kelly see (fingers crossed, ‘please say 0, please say 0’)?” wrote another.
“I hope the Dream goes to LeBron. Y’all deserve better than Loeffler,” said still another.
Loeffler’s toxic effect won’t just go away, making her a drag on both the Dream and the WNBA. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert tried to split hairs last summer, saying the league wouldn’t try to force out Loeffler because she wasn’t involved in the team’s day-to-day operations.
But that distinction will be lost to the general public. It’s not the depth of Loeffler’s involvement that’s at issue. It’s that she’s involved, period. There is no amount of distance the WNBA or the Dream can put between themselves and Loeffler that will make people forget they are intertwined.
Besides, from the simple financial perspective, there will never be a better time for the Dream to be shopped, whether it’s the team as a whole or Loeffler’s 49% stake.
After it became clear Tuesday night that the Rev. Raphael Warnock was going to defeat Loeffler, LeBron James tweeted, “Think I’m gone put together an ownership group for The Dream. Whose in?”
Now, it’s not clear if James can actually own an WNBA team while he is still an active NBA player, given the ties between the leagues and restrictions in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. But James has a lot of friends, and they’ve already proven they can get creative when it comes to setting up business endeavors that intersect and overlap with the NBA.
James’ idea drew quick support. Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pro Football Hall of Famer Champ Bailey and World Cup champion Abby Wambach were among the famous names to express interest in joining him.
If James is serious, Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would be doing the WNBA a disservice by not taking advantage of his significant spotlight.
The WNBA is almost 25 years old, and it does not need any man to be its savior. Ask those who know the game — really know the game — and they’ll vouch for the WNBA’s level of play. But women’s sports still struggle for attention and coverage, and James would make the league impossible to ignore for the immediate future.
And for the Neanderthals who love to disparage women’s sports, it would be one hell of a clapback for one of the greatest to ever play the game to say he believes so strongly in the WNBA — on and off the court — that he’s willing to put his money behind it.
The WNBA didn’t start this fight, Loeffler did. It’s funny how she didn’t object when WNBA players protested policy brutality of Black and Brown men and women back in 2016. Nor did she say anything publicly when the WNBA partnered with Planned Parenthood.
Only when it became politically expedient did Loeffler take a blowtorch to the WNBA players and their causes.
She mischaracterized the Black Lives Matter movement and objected to the players spotlighting the “Say Her Name” campaign last season. When WNBA players called on her to sell the Dream, Loeffler styled herself as a victim — apparently forgetting that objecting to what someone is saying is not the same as preventing someone from speaking.
And when she was forced into a runoff against Warnock, Loeffler doubled down, waging a campaign steeped in both racism and elitism.
But Loeffler and her hateful rhetoric were rejected in historic fashion. Warnock will be the second Black Senator from the South, and only the 11th in the nation’s history.
The WNBA needs to follow suit. Loeffler isn’t just a bad owner. She’s bad for the WNBA’s business.
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