The dream players for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream have done so much more than just “shutting up and dribbling” over the last year; they defeated Kelly Loeffler. Their accomplishments off the court amid the black lives matter movement have inspired athletes in every professional sports league in the U.S. and will have a lasting impact for years to come.
Back in July of 2020, Loeffler, co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, with Mary Brock, and former U.S. Senator for Georgia, wrote a letter to the WNBA’s commissioner Cathy Engelbert expressing her opposition to the league’s plan to allow players to wear warm-up jerseys with the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” on them.
“The truth is, we need less — not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote, and now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports,” Loeffler wrote. “I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country.”
She instead called for the WNBA to place the American flag on all uniforms and apparel, which of course is the exact opposite of “less, not more politics in sports” as she stated.
It’s no surprise that the players for the Atlanta Dream and others across the WNBA did not take kindly to Loeffler’s remarks, nor do black people, (who at the time of publication had a 49% ownership stake in the Dream).
Elizabeth Williams (the longest-tenured member of the Dream) spoke to former Washington Wizards’, NBA basketball player Etan Thomas for an MLK Day roundtable and said “when she made those statements, it was right when we had gotten into the bubble, we were still in our quarantine period and a lot of the team wasn’t with us yet, so we got together and had a Zoom call and we were like, ‘We have to address this; we had to at least say something.”
And address it they did.
“While we were brainstorming ideas, we realized that we can’t really do anything about her ownership; that’s on the league. But she is in the Senate seat, so we can do something about that,” Williams said. “We had connections with people who understood politics, and they were able to connect us with Rev. [Raphael] Warnock. After vetting him and having conversations with him…we decided we were going to support him and we knew it was going to be even more powerful having the entire league backing us. So when we had our first nationally televised game, we wore these ‘Vote Warnock’ shirts along with every other team in the league and it was just this incredible movement. Warnock ended up running for senate and won the runoff in January.”
At the time of the vetting, the senior pastor of a church once pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was polling at just 9% before the WNBA players led the charge to get him elected. The election win showed the power of an organized-collective of WNBA players, many of whom had been involved in social justice movements for years and attended black lives matter protests.
It also ignited a fire under ownership to look at different routes for removing Loeffler from the ownership team. There were many across the sports world who were interested in being a part of an ownership team led by LeBron James to purchase the Dream from Loeffler.
Last week a WNBA spokesman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “as it relates to the Atlanta Dream, we understand a sale of the franchise is close to being finalized. Once the sale negotiation is concluded, additional information will be provided.”
This example from the WNBA is one that deserves all the applause. They didn’t sit by and let a rich powerful politician get away with creating a false narrative of a movement and silence their voice. They mobilized, educated themselves of the alternatives, and executed the plan to perfection just as they had been accustomed to doing on the basketball court their entire life. Salute to the WNBA players on showing the rest of us what courage looks like over and over again!