The WNBA has responded to team owner and United States senator Kelly Loeffler's opposition to the league's plans to honor the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a “particular political agenda" that "undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.”
Loeffler, a Republican who co-owns the Atlanta Dream franchise, urged WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a letter to halt plans for players to wear warm up jerseys reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” and instead put an American flag on all uniforms and apparel.
“The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote,” said Loeffler, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.”
Interestingly, Loeffler herself is being accused of using the statement against the WNBA for her own political gain: the Republican senator is facing a fierce special election challenge from fellow Republican Doug Collins, who is endorsed by Trump, and likely made the anti-BLM statement to rally conservative voters. She is also facing a number of Democratic challengers, according to Insider.com.
The WNBA and many of the league's star players, as expected, reject Loeffler's complaints outright.
Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery, who decided weeks ago to sit out the 2020 season to focus on social justice work, tweeted, "I’m pretty sad to see that my team ownership is not supportive of the movement & all that it stands for. I was already sitting out this season & this is an example of why. I would love to have a conversation with you about the matter if you’re down?"
Former Dream player Layshia Clarendon, who now plays for the New York Liberty, added, "I can’t believe I ever stepped foot in Kelly’s house and shared a meal with her. It’s actually really hurtful to see her true colors. I had no idea while I played for ATL she felt this way. Happy to own us as long as we stay quiet and perform."
The league itself issued a statement supporting its players and their decision to speak out, in response to Loeffler's comments: “The WNBA is based on the principle of equal and fair treatment of all people and we, along with the teams and players, will continue to use our platforms to vigorously advocate for social justice,” the league said.
Meanwhile, the WNBA Players' Association had fewer, yet more direct, words:
Loeffler, who has co-owned the Atlanta Dream since 2011, has faced increasing pressure to sell her stake in the team since her appointment to the open seat by Gov. Brian Kemp in December.
High-profile WNBA players such as Sue Bird, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Natasha Cloud recently urged Engelbert to sanction Loeffler after she referred to armed Black protesters gathered near the site of Rayshard Brooks shooting death in Atlanta as “mob rule.”