clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Sports Saturday

WNBA players hope to swing U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia

WNBA players took their activism to the next level last season and became key political players by taking a stand in a way that potentially might alter the makeup of the U.S. Senate.

Sky players wore warmup shirts that said “Breonna Taylor” on the front and “Say her name” on the back for the team’s 2020 season opener against the Aces. 
Sky players wore warmup shirts that said “Breonna Taylor” on the front and “Say her name” on the back for the team’s 2020 season opener against the Aces. 
Chicago Sky

WNBA players have been at the forefront of the fight for racial justice in the United States since before Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in 2016.

But they took their activism to the next level last season and became key political players by taking a stand in a way that potentially might alter the makeup of the U.S. Senate.

After the WNBA announced in July it would dedicate its 2020 season to social justice, Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, sent a letter to commissioner Cathy Engelbert objecting to the league’s plans to honor the Black Lives Matter movement.

‘‘The truth is, we need less — not more — politics in sports,’’ wrote Loeffler, a Republican.

Loeffler, whose political ideology goes against everything the WNBA stands for, has been a co-owner of the Dream since 2007, although she stepped down from the WNBA’s board of governors in October 2019 and no longer is involved in the daily operations of the team, according to Engelbert.

Loeffler’s letter drew ire from players, many of whom initially took to social media to express their frustrations. But then they stopped and decided to unify and mobilize instead.

On Aug. 4, WNBA players endorsed Loeffler’s Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, by wearing ‘‘Vote Warnock’’ T-shirts before their games.

‘‘[Loeffler] was literally only using the WNBA because she knew her constituents didn’t like what we were doing,’’ Sky guard Gabby Williams said. ‘‘And so if she wants to use us as a political tool, fine. That’s going to backfire on you, and we’re going to support Warnock.

‘‘We didn’t know the difference exactly that it would make, but we wanted to make our stance known and we wanted to just kind of be a platform for him and help him in any way that we possibly could because we believe that he’s truly what is best in this moment for Georgia.’’

Warnock called the WNBA’s endorsement a turning point in his campaign. Within two days, his campaign raised more than $183,000, which he used to buy TV ads that increased his visibility, USA Today reported.

After polling in single digits before the WNBA’s endorsement, Warnock forced a Jan. 5 runoff against Loeffler after neither candidate secured the 50% of votes needed to claim victory this month. The other Senate race in Georgia also will be decided in a runoff. And those two races have huge implications in terms of which party will control the Senate.

Williams said she sees the runoff election as an uphill battle because the system is rooted in racial oppression and was established as a barrier to minority success by the white majority.

‘‘There are systems put in place to keep this man out of office,’’ Williams said. ‘‘If he can win this and we can [give him] that support, it won’t just be him winning this office, but we’ll be beating this oppressive law. So it would be huge to say the WNBA helped that, the WNBA fought that, we fought with all odds against us — with all odds against him — and still won.’’

While there’s no uniform plan for the WNBA to continue to throw support behind Warnock in the next two months, given that players are scattered all over the world, Williams said they ‘‘know what we have to do now.’’ Some players, such Sue Bird and Skylar Diggins-Smith, already have tweeted their support for Warnock.