Commissioner Cathy Engelbert says WNBA won't force Sen. Kelly Loeffler to sell Dream

Cassandra Negley
·4-min read

The WNBA will not make Sen. Kelly Loeffler sell her stake of the Atlanta Dream after anti-Black Lives Matter comments in the past few weeks, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Thursday on CNN.

“We are not going to force her to sell her ownership,” Engelbert said after being pressed about the issue in a segment with CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “She is not a current governor. She is not involved in the day-to-day, and we are aware there are interested parties who want to purchase the team.”

Engelbert, a day ahead of her one-year anniversary on the job, addressed Loeffler’s letter to the league voicing opposition to the social justice movement it will undertake while playing at IMG Academy in Florida. The WNBA Players Association made clear in the wake of the co-owner’s comments that players want her out, and Loeffler made it clear she won’t sell.

Engelbert: We won’t force Loeffler out

Upon repeated questioning from Harlow, Engelbert reiterated the league’s initial statement that Loeffler has not served as a governor for the team since October 2019. She was appointed to an open Senate seat in George by Gov. Brian Kemp in December.

Engelbert said the league is “aware there are interested parties that want to purchase the team” and it’s being worked on. Most importantly, the league is focused on standing by the causes, in this case social and racial justice issues, that matter most to its players, she said.

“We believe in the WNBA platform. What the players want to focus on — and I know some of them have spoken out — but they want to focus on getting owners in who otherwise are supporting what they stand for. And that’s what we’re working on.”

The focus on social justice begins the first weekend, when players will wear jerseys featuring the name “Breonna Taylor” on courts that read “Black Lives Matter.” Tipoff is July 25 between Sabrina Ionescu’s New York Liberty and the 2018 champion Seattle Storm, featuring the return of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

Engelbert’s situation is familiar

Harlow reference the oft-used comparison of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in April 2014. Sterling was caught on audio making racist remarks, including telling his girlfriend “it bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with Black people.” He also had a history of racist incidents.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, also in his first year on the job, fined Sterling $2.5 million and banned him for life. He was not allowed to attend any NBA games or practices, be present at the Clippers’ facilities, participate in personnel decisions or attend Board of Governors meetings. It was the harshest move he could make under his powers.

The NBA owners were set to vote him out of ownership after that using a provision in the NBA constitution. It required a three-quarters majority vote and owners believed they had it, but canceled the scheduled vote after a sale was set in motion.

Loeffler and Mary Brock have co-owned the team since 2011. There were already reports they have been working to sell the team over the past few years. The last WNBA team to undergo a sale was the Liberty to Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai that went through in January 2019.

Loeffler’s use of team for senate campaign

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at a press conference where Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne was named the 2019 WNBA most valuable player, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert is facing a 'Donald Sterling moment' in her first year on the job. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Engelbert said she was surprised to receive the letter from Loeffler given her previous interactions with the owner and her support of “women’s issues, of women’s empowerment, and [she is] very interested in her players and what they stand for.” That was a similar reaction to former Dream star Layshia Clarendon.

Loeffler is in a race for her senate seat against 20 other candidates and is not the favorite entering the final four months. She is trying to win votes from the more conservative-supported Rep. Doug Collins.

Her campaign received donations from major corporations, such as AT&T, Google, Sony and Target. At least one, Boston Scientific, said it will no longer support her campaign, Jedd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria reported for Popular Information.

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