U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler objected to the WNBA’s plans to honor the Black Lives Matter movement, warning Tuesday that subscribing to a “particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.”
Loeffler, a Republican who co-owns Atlanta’s WNBA franchise, urged Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a letter to scrap plans for players to wear warmup 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, who faces a November special election against 20 other candidates.
“And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.”
The letter faced swift and sharp criticism from players and fans. Dream guard Renee Montgomery, who is sitting out the 2020 WNBA season to focus on social justice initiatives, tagged Loeffler in a message Twitter.
“I’m pretty sad to see that my team ownership is not supportive of the movement and all that it stands for,” she said. “I was already sitting out this season and this is an example of why. I would love to have a conversation with you about the matter if you’re down?”
The WNBA players union tweeted: “E-N-O-U-G-H! O-U-T!” In a statement, the league distanced itself from Loeffler, noting she isn't involved in day-to-day operations of the team.
“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.
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.
She’s aligned herself closely with President Donald Trump and staked positions against abortion rights and as an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter protests demanding racial justice and equality.
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."
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Montgomery responded to the video circulating with Loeffler’s mob rule comments.
“The second amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights,” Montgomery wrote on Twitter. “The problem some may be having is who is bearing the arms.”
Loeffler, who said she wasn’t consulted about the league’s change, used the phrase in the Tuesday letter, saying the protest movement has spurred “lawless autonomous zones” in Atlanta and other cities across the nation.
“I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized,” wrote Loeffler. “However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the ‘mob rule’ that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.”
The league announced Monday it would kick off the season in late July with a tournament in Florida "centered around the Black Lives Matter movement" and uniforms invoking the names of women such as Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in Kentucky in March.
Former Atlanta Dream and University of Louisville star Angel McCoughtry led the campaign to wear the names on jerseys during the season.
The WNBA is a majority-Black league, and has struggled with the handling of protests in the past. Players began kneeling and participating in protests during the 2016 season, and the league fined those who wore black shirts instead of traditional warmups.
This season, players are set to wear warmup jerseys emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” on the front and “Say Her Name” on the back. “Black Lives Matter” will also be featured on the courts during the games.
Loeffler's role with the WNBA has loomed large since her name emerged as a likely choice by Kemp for the open spot. The league has a long history of appealing to black and LGBTQ fans that typically vote Democratic.
Until Tuesday, the WNBA and the player's association have not spoken about Loeffler’s appointment or her political stances.
The Dream organization’s only statement on the matter came last year when it said that it is not a “political entity” and is focused on “building a successful team on the court and creating a top fan experience.”
Point guard Layshia Clarendon, who played for the Dream from 2016 to 2018, spoke out her experience with Loeffler.
“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,” they said on Twitter. “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.”
In her letter, Loeffler framed her idea for an American flag patch on WNBA uniforms as a call for a “unifying rallying point for the American people” at a tumultuous time.
“I sincerely hope you will consider my proposal. Because if we can’t acknowledge, much less unite behind our flag during this struggle, we’ll never achieve the goals we all want for each other.”
Here's a copy of the letter:
Dear Commissioner Engelbert:
When I purchased a stake in the Atlanta Dream nearly a decade ago, it really was a dream come true for me. Sports are such a powerful, dynamic force in uniting communities across our great country. People from all walks of life are unified by a team, a game, a championship. Everyone wears the same uniform – even when they don’t share the same political views.
I appreciate your hard work as the WNBA Commissioner, especially during these challenging moments, but I was incredibly disappointed to read about efforts to insert a political platform into the league.
Players, coaches, and yes – team owners – share differing opinions on many issues. All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.
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. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.
The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.
Amid the recent unrest in many American cities, this movement advocated the creation of lawless autonomous zones in places like Atlanta. I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized. However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the “mob rule” that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.
Though I was not consulted about—nor do I agree with the League's decision in this matter, I am proposing a common-sense recommendation to ensure we reflect the values of freedom and equality for all. I believe we should put an American flag on every jersey. Include it in our licensed apparel for players, coaches and fans.
As our nation battles COVID-19, economic hardship, and the fight to ensure justice for all, we need a unifying rallying point for the American people. I sincerely hope you will consider my proposal. Because if we can’t acknowledge, much less unite behind our flag during this struggle, we’ll never achieve the goals we all want for each other.
Our flag has weathered countless storms, wars, and civil unrest. It symbolizes the strengths unique to our country and the American people. It stands for freedom, equality and hope. This important symbol will unite us as we work toward a better, brighter, and more equitable tomorrow.
Thank you in advance for your consideration in this important matter. I look forward to your prompt response.