Kelly Loeffler's latest gripe: WNBA players exercising their democratic rights

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·6-min read

As players for the six WNBA teams playing in Tuesday night’s slate of games arrived at the IMG Academy courts, many were wearing black T-shirts that read “VOTE WARNOCK” in white letters.

It was a graphic, unmistakeable and smart message.

Rev. Raphael Warnock is a Democrat running against Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who was gifted the seat by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last year, after Johnny Isakson retired for health reasons with two years left in his six-year term.

Loeffler, in case you haven’t been following along, is also a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream, and in recent weeks has been playing the entirely intellectually dishonest game of accusing WNBA players of “being political” while simultaneously using those same players as pawns to appeal to her far-right wing base in her political race.

Players and the WNBPA have called for Loeffler’s ouster as a team owner, a fair demand given that Donald Sterling was booted as Los Angeles Clippers owner for racist incidents. Loeffler is a trifecta of racism, anti-LGBT bigotry and alleged insider trading.

Despite all of that, though, Loeffler has barely been censured by the WNBA, let alone stripped of ownership, and yet she continues to whine about how she’s being treated.

After photos of players in “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts spread, Loeffler released a statement that read a lot like at least one other she’s released in recent weeks, decrying “out of control cancel culture.”

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Loeffler has never held political office before and didn’t even win the seat she has, so maybe she’s unaware of how this works: endorsing her opponent in an election isn’t cancel culture (which is a largely useless term that’s been co-opted by those who are upset when they face consequences for doing something terrible), it’s called democracy. The people of Georgia are entitled to vote for whomever they prefer, and the women of the WNBA are entitled to endorse whomever they prefer.

Make no mistake: The shirts and the endorsement weren’t done solely to be petty. WNBA players spoke with Warnock twice via Zoom to learn more about what he believes and the changes he’d push for as a senator. They liked what they heard, and the endorsement was made. Led by league legend Sue Bird, the T-shirts were distributed, but it was made clear that wearing them is optional.

First and foremost, Warnock supports the idea that Black lives matter — seemingly a given since he is a Black man, but the idea that’s at the root of players’ (and many fans’) anger toward Loeffler. When the WNBA announced that “Black Lives Matter” would be painted on the courts in the wubble, Loeffler wrote to league commissioner Cathy Englebert in protest.

“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 told ESPN. “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.

“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.”

Several players wore T-shirts in support of Kelly Loeffler's opponent in the U.S. Senate race. (Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
Several players wore T-shirts in support of Kelly Loeffler's opponent in the U.S. Senate race. (Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

Loeffler continues to double- and triple-down on her stance, blithely saying in her statement that the lives of African Americans matter but “the BLM political organization” is something she opposes, citing that the group wants to “erode” the nuclear family, which is again some dishonest wordplay.

(As an aside, it still boggles the mind that so many virulently argue against the simple concept of Black lives mattering. That’s the literal statement: our lives matter, too. Not matter more. Just matter, since in many areas, from policing to justice to housing policy to banking to education, there are structures in place committed to treating Black citizens as less-than.)

The “what we believe” page for the the website of the Black Lives Matter organization, a fairly loosely structured group of local chapters, says it wants to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”

It’s one of more than a dozen items listed, all of them pushing for “radical” ideas as Loeffler called them, like “we acknowledge, respect, and celebrate differences and commonalities” and “we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.”

Saying that family can go far beyond the antiquated notion of one man, one woman and the two children they produced together under the same roof isn’t “erosion,” it’s real. All over this country, people of all colors and backgrounds lean on networks that consist of blood relatives, those who married in, and others who are neither but choose to be in each other’s lives to make their day-to-day happen, and happen better. “It takes a village to raise a child” is a proverb used throughout Africa for decades if not centuries.

Loeffler’s derision of that idea also seems to be a thinly veiled swipe at families comprised of same-sex parents.

She’s also stuck on this idea that WNBA players and the league, through its support and amplification of player-led initiatives, can’t mix the fight for civil rights and basketball. It’s both the demeaning “stick to basketball” said a different way and a continued allusion that the women aren’t smart enough to commit their time and energy to more than one thing.

They surely can do both, and they’ll continue to do so, whether Loeffler likes it or not.

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