NBA players showed their power by getting Donald Sterling removed as Clippers owner.
WNBA players might be having a similar moment with Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia.
Sterling committed incredibly harmful racist and sexist acts for years. Ironically, something far more benign – telling his girlfriend not to post pictures with black people or bring them to games – did him in. But he went too far in a time of growing sensitivity to speech.
Now, there’s even less tolerance for people saying the “wrong” thing. And Loeffler has said things lately that range from disagreeable to offensive.
The WNBA announced its plans for promoting social justice during its upcoming season:
The WNBA will begin its season in late July with a weekend of competition centered around the Black Lives Matter movement, during which teams will wear special uniforms to seek justice for the women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Vanessa Guillen and many more who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence. Throughout the season, players will wear NIKE-branded warm-up shirts that display “Black Lives Matter” on the front. Additionally, “Say Her Name” will adorn the back of the shirts. “Black Lives Matter” will also be prominently displayed on courts during games.
In response, Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. A portion of that letter, via Greg Bluestein and Bria Felicien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.
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.
The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, 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. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.
Amid the recent unrest in many American cities, this movement advocated the creation of lawless autonomous zones in places like Atlanta. I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized. However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the “mob rule” that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.
Though I was not consulted about—nor do I agree with the League’s decision in this matter, I am proposing a common-sense recommendation to ensure we reflect the values of freedom and equality for all. I believe we should put an American flag on every jersey. Include it in our licensed apparel for players, coaches and fans.
Women’s National Basketball Players Association:
— WNBPA (@TheWNBPA) July 7, 2020
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:
“The WNBA is based on the principle of equal and fair treatment of all people and we, along with the teams and players, will continue to use our platforms to vigorously advocate for social justice. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not served as a Governor of the Atlanta Dream since October 2019 and is no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.”
That is a strong statement from the union. Several players previously criticized Loeffler, especially in the wake of a recent interview.
She was asked, “It is not every day you see people carrying long guns in big cities in America. What is happening on the streets of Atlanta this morning?” While Fox News showed armed black men, Loeffler said, “This is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow mob rule. We’re a nation of the rule of law.”
If Loeffler – a self-avowed Second Amendment advocate – were specifically denouncing legal gun carrying because the carriers were black, that’s racist, hypocritical and completely unacceptable. But it’s unclear whether Loeffler could see the images and videos as she answered. It’s also unclear whether she was answering more generally about everything happening in Atlanta.
Regardless, backlash spread.
Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream:
— Renee Montgomery (@itsreneem_) June 26, 2020
Dear @SenatorLoeffler ….
I’m pretty sad to see that my team ownership is not supportive of the movement & all that it stands for. I was already sitting out this season & this is an example of why. I would love to have a conversation with you about the matter if you’re down?
— Renee Montgomery (@itsreneem_) July 7, 2020
Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm:
Asking myself the same question https://t.co/4AbLp3vF9C
— Sue Bird (@S10Bird) July 3, 2020
Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Washington Mystics:
— Skylar Diggins-Smith (@SkyDigg4) July 4, 2020
Natasha Cloud of the Phoenix Mercury:
Get her weak ass out of our league. https://t.co/wcWqJNIWtK
— Natasha Cloud (@T_Cloud4) July 4, 2020
Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty:
I can’t believe I ever stepped foot in Kelly’s house and shared a meal with her. It’s actually really hurtful to see her true colors. I had no idea while I played for ATL she felt this way. Happy to own us as long as we stay quiet and perform 🤬👀 https://t.co/97jTbmuHda
— Layshia Clarendon (@Layshiac) July 7, 2020
Sydney Colson of the Chicago Sky:
Let me be clear: we don’t give a damn what you think @KLoeffler. Cut all ties with the league, stop giving your bigoted opinions about black affairs, & tend to ur insider trading sweetheart 💅🏾 https://t.co/KYZHUlrvXU
— Sydney Colson (@SydJColson) July 7, 2020
There is room for legitimate debate on the issues raised in the tweets and articles they link, including gun control, abortion and the best tactics for fighting racism. Loeffler shouldn’t be forced out simply because she disagrees with some vocal players. (I suspect, in a league as large and diverse as the WNBA, some players agree with her on some of these issues.)
But Loeffler’s letter to Engelbert is particularly off-putting.
Disagreeing with some elements of the Black Lives Matter organization would be one thing. But condemning the Black Lives Matter political movement is something else. Within that movement, there are disagreements on methods and goals. The unifying thread: Believing black lives matter. That’s why Black Lives Matter, despite some extreme views, holds such mass appeal.
It’s also gross for Loeffler to use a false claim about Secoriea Turner to fit her agenda. Protesters have decried the girl’s killing.
The players who are using their platforms to promote racial justice deserve praise. Their plan is good for the WNBA. It’s good for the United the States.
The truth is there has always been politics in sports. White people can more easily ignore it, but that’s their privilege. The many black players in the WNBA still live in a country with systematic racism. Their humanity doesn’t end when they show up to work, and they shouldn’t be told to be quiet and just wear an American flag on their jerseys.
It’s telling that Loeffler’s solution to politics in sports is to put a political symbol on jerseys.
She doesn’t want politics out of sports. She wants politics she disagrees with out of sports.
Now, the WNBA will determine whether it wants her out of its sport.