Updated: Jan 27
Before the women of the Atlanta Dream, Georgia's WNBA team, came out in support of Raphael Warnock, he was polling at 9%. Now, he's Georgia's next senator, having defeated Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler.
“I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement,” Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler wrote in a letter to the commissioner of the WNBA during the height of the George Floyd protests last summer.
Loeffler is a co-owner of the WNBA team the Atlanta Dream, a team made up almost entirely of Black women. She was reacting to the WNBA’s decision to display the words Black Lives Matter during their games.
“We need less—not more—politics in sports,” she wrote.
Soon, Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, will no longer be a senator. She lost her special election this week to a Democrat, the Reverend Raphael Warnock.
That defeat is thanks in part to a coordinated, strategic, months-long effort by the women of the Atlanta Dream and their colleagues across the WNBA. Loeffler said she wanted to remove politics from sports. The WNBA removed Loeffler from politics.
“We played a big role in this,” Dream player Elizabeth Williams tells Glamour, of her WNBA colleagues’ decision to devote their time off the court, during a pandemic, to flipping the U.S. Senate.
The week before the Dream came out in support of Warnock, he was polling at 9%, in fourth place behind front-runner Loeffler, her Republican opponent, and the leading Democratic candidate. He had little name recognition or media attention. The 48-hour period after the Dream came out in support of Warnock resulted in significant fundraising and attention to his campaign, analysis from the Washington Post found. Warnock’s team chose to feature Dream players in the final ad of the campaign. It’s likely that the Dream’s actions helped propel Warnock ahead of the other Democrat in the race and eventually helped him clinch his victory.
The victory feels particularly poetic given that it was Stacey Abrams herself, then a member of the Georgia State House of Representatives, who brought the Dream back to Atlanta in 2007, organizing and negotiating the deal. She has since become the most significant figure in turning Georgia blue in the presidential and congressional elections. “It’s a different type of bravery,” Williams says of getting involved in a national election. Good thing the women of the WNBA are brave. “Our league is about 80% Black women,” Williams says. “As female athletes, there are always going to be doubters and haters and people that don’t really want to see you succeed—now top that with being Black. It kind of makes us inherently political.”
“It’s a different type of bravery,” Williams says of getting involved in a national election. Good thing the women of the WNBA are brave. “Our league is about 80% Black women,” Williams says. “As female athletes, there are always going to be doubters and haters and people that don’t really want to see you succeed—now top that with being Black. It kind of makes us inherently political.”
The women of the WNBA have long served as social justice activists. In 2018, Minnesota Lynx player Maya Moore famously took a leave of absence, while at the top of her game, to work to overturn the wrongful conviction of Jonathan Irons (whom she later married in a happy twist of fate), and she was followed by other players, including Natasha Cloud, who sat out the 2019–2020 season to work with the Black Lives Matter movement. But this summer the league organized itself into an advocacy powerhouse. The women of the WNBA dedicated the 2020 season to the #SayHerName campaign, memorializing Breonna Taylor, who was killed in Kentucky by police officers. They created a Social Justice Council. When you imagine professional athletes preparing for a season, do you think of them sitting down to meet with noted critical race theory scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw? The women of the WNBA did.
After Loeffler’s statement, the idea of being “owned” by her seemed unconscionable to many Dream players. But despite an outcry from across the WNBA, the league’s commissioner said that she would not force Loeffler to sell off her ownership. And Loeffler, perhaps, wasn’t aware of what a formidable opponent she had in the women of the WNBA. “Throughout American history, Black women have been the bottom of the totem pole in a sense,” Williams says. “Combine that with being athletes, and we’re always fighting, fighting, fighting, whether it’s for equal pay, for recognition, for the media to see us—we kind of have this inherent fight in us.”
On Tuesday morning, the day of the runoff election, Warnock posted a final ad—it showed how Warnock’s campaign had built enthusiasm starting with Warnock himself, and bolstered by endorsements from former president Barack Obama and President-elect Joe Biden. The ad framed the story exactly as it happened—crediting the Dream as Warnock’s first major supporters. Hours later Warnock was declared the winner by a margin of over 40,000 votes. Loeffler had been defeated.
“Woke up and just smiled remembering that one time Kelly Loeffler tried to come for the W and we helped Reverend Warnock take her senate seat,” Layshia Clarendon, a player for New York Liberty, tweeted the morning after Warnock’s victory. “Winning never felt so damn good.”
This article was written by Jenny Singer.
Jenny Singer is a staff-writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.