WNBA players are sending a resounding message to Atlanta Dream co-owner and Republican U.S. senator Kelly Loeffler, who is a critic of the league's Black Lives Matter initiatives.
The athletes made a powerful statement by wearing “Vote Warnock” t-shirts to their games this week, showing support for the Democrat who is challenging Loeffler for her Senate seat representing Georgia.
According to ESPN, the athletes said they are supporting Rev. Raphael Warnock because he represents their views when it comes to social justice.
“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,” Elizabeth Williams, a forward on the Atlanta Dream, told ESPN. “So it just worked out really well.”
Loeffler recently wrote a letter to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, opposing the league's decision to write "Black lives matter" on game courts and promote social justice.
The rest of the country is seeing what many of us feel here in Georgia.
— Jason Esteves (@jasonesteves) August 4, 2020
vote warnock pic.twitter.com/y1jodNlNkX
— WNBA Bubble Life (@WNBABubbleLife) August 4, 2020
"I think when all this stuff started happening with her, we didn't want to feel like we were pawns," Williams said. "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."
The idea for the shirts came from Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird.
"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.
Warnock released a statement on Tuesday, saying he was "honored and humbled by the overwhelming support from the WNBA players."
"This movement gives us the opportunity to fight for what we believe in, and I stand by all athletes promoting social justice on and off the court," the Democratic candidate said.
Loeffler believes the league's support for the Black Lives Matter movement will turn some fans away.
"I think a lot of people feel that they may not have a place," the conservative told ESPN. "They may feel excluded from this sport and other sports that make them feel like American values aren't at the core of what we're doing here."
She said the Black Lives Matter organization is ill-intended.
"The Black Lives Matter political organization advocates things like defunding and abolishing the police, abolishing our military, emptying our prisons, destroying the nuclear family," Loeffler said. "It promotes violence and anti-Semitism. To me, this is not what our league stands for."
The players have been showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement since the season started last month. The New York Liberty and Seattle Storm players wore Breonna Taylor's name on the back of their jerseys in the first game of the season and left the court before the singing of the national anthem, staying in their locker rooms during the traditional American festivity.
Correction: Players left the court before the national anthem was played, not during. https://t.co/MdW7HtMO1P
— ESPN (@espn) July 26, 2020
Several players have chosen to skip the season because of COVID-19 or to pursue social justice work, as Blavity previously reported. The players who are sitting out include Rebecca Allen and Asia Durr of the New York Liberty, Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, Jessica Breland of the Phoenix Mercury, Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream and Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces.
WNBA champion Maya Moore notably sat out for two seasons to fight for the freedom of Jonathan Irons, asserting he was wrongfully imprisoned when an all-white jury convicted him for a 1997 burglary and nonfatal shooting. Irons had his conviction overturned on March 9, as Blavity previously reported.
After their latest act of solidarity, the athletes got an endorsement from soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe.
THIS is what’s up! @ReverendWarnock is the real deal. ???? These @WNBA players are organized, relentless, fearless, and this is just next level you ???????? love ???????? to ???????? see ???????? it ???????? https://t.co/5aAzQxv5J4
— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) August 4, 2020
Forward Breanna Stewart said the players are first educating themselves and then taking that knowledge to the masses.
"We had an opportunity to be on two separate Zooms with [Warnock] and see what he stands for and what he's fighting for," Stewart said. "I think he's someone who's fighting to create change and fighting to be on the right side of things. Obviously, I'm not voting for Georgia, but continuing to use my platform to help with that — but I did vote today, just want to let you know."
Williams said the players are pushing "for effective change to happen."
"There has to be policy changes," Williams said. "And so 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."
Continuing with the recent momentum of protests around the country, Warnock and the athletes refuse to be silenced.
"Senator Loeffler and those like her who seek to silence and dismiss others when they speak up for justice have planted themselves on the wrong side of history," Warnock said. "We are in a moment of generational, transformative change, and there is no place in that movement for bigotry. We celebrate the courage and resolve of these players standing for justice, and I am proud to stand with them."