reTrump’s incessant jousts with professional athletes, beginning with his sensational barrage against Colin Kaepernick in the early days of his presidency, fueled a movement within the sport that not only drew attention to social and racial injustice, but also led to a mainstreaming of athlete activism, not seen since Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar occupied the front lines of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
But no sports league in the U.S. can match the sustained engagement and sense of urgency around social issues more than the WNBA, which supported causes ranging from sexual assault prevention to Planned Parenthood to educational support. For LGBTQ + youth at a time when top athletes from other organizations mostly subscribed to the prevailing apolitical “Republicans buy sneakers too.”
The latest chapter and most visible win in that long history came early Wednesday morning when Raphael Warnock won a runoff to oust Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the WNBA co-owner of Atlanta Dream who ran on a platForm. Antithetical to everything the 24-year-old league represents and seems to have paid dearly For it.
Loeffler, who has earned a reputation as ultra-loyal to Trump since your date to the upper house by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in 2018, the league commissioner wrote in June objecting to his adoption of Black Lives Matter in the wake of the murders of Brennan Taylor and George Floyd and calling For the depoliticization of sports. She alleged that the organization supported “the defending of the police, called For the expulsion of Jesus from the churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country,” adding that by highlighting a “particular policy agenda undermines the potential of sport and sends a message of exclusion.”
When calls from the WNBA players union For the CEO-turned-legislator to sell her team shares without response, the players took a different tack. Inspired by Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird, they coordinated a plan to wear ‘Vote Warnock’ jerseys in games in support of Loeffler’s Democratic challenger instead of hailing criticism of the acting senator. The campaign has been credited as a key factor in raising the profile of Warnock.
“I think when all of this started happening to her, we didn’t want to feel like we were pawns,” Elizabeth Williams, the British-born power Forward in her fifth season with Atlanta, told ESPN in August. “We can only control to a certain extent what the league does [in regard to Loeffler]so For us, we wanted it to be bigger than that.
“That has been the theme of this season. So we wanted to make sure we could keep the focus on our movement For social justice and, interestingly, Rev Warnock is someone who supports everytsupport, andport and he happens to be running in that seat. So it worked really well. “
Not surprisingly, the players’ plan drew attention from grassroots Democratic activist Stacey Abrams, who serves as an adviser to the board of the WNBA Players Association.
It is impossible to estimate the degree to which the emphatic endorsement of the players influenced Loeffler’s loss on Wednesday. But as Lindsay Gibbs documented in an exhaustively detailed timeline that appeared in it (consistently outstanding) Power games newsletter, Warnock was voting 9% and a distant quarter in a survey by Monmouth University released at the end of July already 17 Loeffler points. After the show of support from the WNBA players the following week, his campaign received$240ly $ 240,000 in donations and 4,000 new donors.
While running his first virtual city hall statewide and launching a merchandise store that sported the same jerseys the players wore, Warnock brought the momentum to September (19%, 3rd) and October (28%, 1st).
When Democrats woke up Wednesday on the brink of taking control of the Senate, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted on Atlanta club sports at the center of it all: “I think I went to Form an ownership group For The Dream. Whose is it? #BlackVotesMatter “.
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts answered: “COUNT ON ME!!!!!”
But it was the WNBA players themselves who got the most joy on Wednesday’s hard-won victory lap.
“I woke up and smiled remembering that one time Kelly Loeffler tried to coW, and the W and we helped @ReverendWarnock take his seat in the SenaLadyshipid Layshia Clarendon, New York LiberTweetedd. tweeted. “Winning never felt so good.”
“Not only is Raphael Warnock Georgia the first black senator, but also the first democratic black senator to EVER be elected in the South.” wrote Brianna Turner, Phoenix Mercury Forward. “50 years ago that was unimaginable. I wonder where the south will be in 50 years.
“Winning is great, but have you ever flipped the Senate?” additional Seattle star Breanna Stewart. “We are on the right side of history !!
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism