History shouldn't forget WNBA players helped changed course of U.S. Senate, and neither should their league

Thank you, WNBA players.

Thank you for your gifts and your talents.

Most especially, thank you for never shying away from doing the right thing, fighting for those that look and love like you — and by extension, yourselves — and never shutting up and dribbling.

A great deal of credit for what looks to be a Democrat sweep in Tuesday’s Georgia Senate runoff election rightfully belongs to Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight and Black Voters Matter, co-founded by LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, for the incredible work they’ve done in recent years helping Black Georgians get registered to vote and to the polls in a state that has historically done everything it can to prevent those things. But let us never forget that six months ago, Rev. Raphael Warnock was polling in single digits in a crowded Democratic primary.

And then the women of the WNBA, disgusted by the racist rhetoric of Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a woman who went from relative unknown to being handed a U.S. Senate seat overnight and decided that the way to keep the seat she’d been given was to demonize the very women she once hosted in her home for team dinners, came up with an idea that changed everything.

On August 4, as players for six teams playing that night entered the Florida arena in their “Wubble,” they were wearing black t-shirts with thick, white capital letters: “VOTE WARNOCK.”

Sue Bird was among the players who led many in the league to wear "Vote Warnock" shirts in support of a US Senate race in Georgia. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Players and their supporters made it known to the league that they were deeply bothered by Loeffler’s words. And then they decided to take action. Led in part by Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird, they researched Loeffler’s potential opponents, liked what they saw in Warnock, and met with him virtually to talk to him about his positions.

Satisfied with what they heard, they went public with their endorsement of the Black preacher, the bespectacled man who has led iconic Ebenezer Baptist Church for over a decade, the spiritual home of civil rights titans Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rep. John Lewis.

At the time, Warnock was polling at 9 percent in a Monmouth University poll of Georgia voters.

Within three days, Warnock saw more than 3,500 new grassroots donors contribute over $235,000 to his campaign and he gained thousands of followers on social media, according to his campaign. Suddenly he was getting a lot more attention.

And now Warnock will become just the 11th Black U.S. Senator in American history, the first from Georgia.

It is WNBA players, and many of their coaches who support them, who deserve the credit here, not the league. The WNBA has largely been silent as Loeffler waged her campaign of intolerance; multiple emails to the league and Dream media relations officials seeking comment have not been returned.

If it isn’t clear by now, when athletes use their considerable clout for good, they can affect change. Generally those who are opposed to that are those who are resistant to the changes they seek, like asking police not to shoot Black people on-sight for misdemeanors (or no crime at all), or pushing for civil rights, or making sure voting is the right promised to all of us, not just a select few. Or changing the course of a Senate race.

The notion that this is a sticky situation for the WNBA is flimsy: The NBA wasted little time getting rid of Donald Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and — while we’re not huge fans of grading racism — what Sterling got booted for wasn’t nearly as egregious as what Loeffler has done for the last several months.

The WNBA is still prominently featuring a photo of players wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts under a “Social Justice” banner, linking to the work that’s been done and dedicated their season in 2020 to Breonna Taylor, the Louisville medical worker slain in her apartment by police.

And yet as Loeffler has posed for pictures with known white supremacists more than once, has said she’s against the Black Lives Matter movement, and is anti-LGBTQ, the league has said nothing.

If Loeffler remains as a Dream owner (LeBron James is floating the idea of getting together an ownership group to purchase the team), what are players expected to do? Ten of the 12 players on the 2020 roster are Black. They’re supposed to happily accept that one of the people who owns the team they play for doesn’t believe in the basic notion that their lives have value? That appeared to make the reprehensible decision to darken the skin of her opponent in ads, ostensibly to make him scarier to white voters, and ran one of the ugliest anti-Black campaigns in recent memory?

These women love their sport and their league, but the expectation that they will demean themselves to play for an objectively racist team owner is antithetical to everything they’ve shown us over the last several years.

The election is over, WNBA, but it’s time for you to make a decision, one that honors the women who wear your league’s logo.

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