WNBA players are taking a stand against Atlanta Dream co-owner and Sen. Kelly Loeffler by wearing t-shirts in support of Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is challenging Loeffler in the upcoming Georgia election.
Last month, Loeffler sent a letter to league commissioner Cathy Engelbert denouncing the league's decision to embrace Black Lives Matter by allowing players to wear warm-up uniforms with the movement's name and slogans — like "Say Her Name" — on the back. She also opposed the painting of "Black Lives Matter" on the courts at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where the league is holding its restart.
Following the letter, several WNBA players began calling on the organization to remove the senator from her role as co-owner. However, Elizabeth Williams, a forward on the Dream, told ESPN that they are now focusing on how to make "effective change" and they believe that starts with "policy changes."
"If we're going to sit here and talk about wanting justice reform, part of that is making sure that we have officials in office that understand that," Williams said. "I think when all this stuff started happening with her, we didn't want to feel like we were pawns. We can only control so much about what the league does [in regard to Loeffler], and so for us, we wanted it to be bigger than that."
Which is why they decided to vocalize their support for Warnock, who they say better represents their political views, Williams added.
"That's kind of been the theme of this season. So we wanted to make sure we could still keep the focus on our social justice movement, and funny enough, Rev. Warnock is somebody who supports everything that we support and just happens to be running in that seat. So it just worked out really well," she said.
Julio Aguilar/Getty Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm
Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird initially came up with the idea to support Warnock's election, and she told ESPN that participation in the campaign is voluntary and that all players were part of a series of discussions over Zoom.
"This was a situation where given what was said in regards to the owner of Atlanta and how, basically, she came out against a lot of what the women in our league stand for, I think was emotionally tough for a lot of the women in our league to hear that," Bird said. "But very quickly we started to realize that this was only happening for her political gain. This was something that she wanted. And the more noise we made, whether it was a tweet saying to get her out, that was just playing into her hands.
"I'm not some political strategist, but what I do know is that voting is important. And I think our league has always encouraged people to use their voices and to get out and vote," she added. "So, what a great way for us to get the word out about this man, and hopefully put him in the Senate. And, if he's in the Senate, you know who's not. And I'll just leave it at that."
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Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Co-owner & co-chairman of the Atlanta Dream, Sen. Kelly Loeffler looks on during a game against the Chicago Sky on August 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
A representative for Atlanta Dream did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment about the "Vote Warnock" t-shirts. Loeffler's team directed PEOPLE to the statement she made on Tuesday where the junior senator denounced the initiative and continued to stand by what she wrote in June.
"This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June," Loeffler wrote.
"We come together around sports, but promoting a political agenda divides us rather than unites us. The lives of every African American matter, and there’s no place for racism in our country. But I oppose the BLM political organization due to its radical ideas and Marxist foundations, which include defunding the police and eroding the nuclear family. On the other hand, our flag represents our values of freedom and equality for all. If we can’t unite behind our flag, much less the national anthem during this struggle, then what keeps us together?" Loeffler's statement continued. "It’s sad to see that there’s more interest in tearing our country apart than in solutions that bring us together. I’ll continue to defend American values and our flag, because this is not a game – it’s the future of our country."
After receiving the letter from Loeffler the league distanced itself from the senator by pointing out that she "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.”
"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," the WNBA had said at the time.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.