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WNBA Players Help Elect Georgia’s First Black Senator

Are we manifesting that Blue Georgia energy, ladies? The US presidential elections seem like 50 years ago, but the Georgia senate runoffs gave us another late night of watching Rachel Maddow consult Steve Kornacki and his huge touchscreen in a show of gay/lesbian solidarity.

But why are we talking about this? What does this have anything to do with lesbians, other than the fact that Maddow is your every wonk fantasy? Well, did you know the WNBA had a hand in electing Reverend Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator? Let’s a take quick look at how this happened. 

Summer 2020

Last summer saw a wave of protests across the country. All 50 states held Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. These protests even made their way into the sports world, and how could it not?

We saw entire NWSL teams kneel during the anthem. BLM banners adorned NBA Courts. But it was the WNBA, a league of predominantly Black women, that vowed to be more than just sports by dedicating their shortened season to social justice. Then former Senator Kelly Loeffler, co-owner of the WNBA team the Atlanta Dream, sent a letter to the league denouncing its support of BLM and parroting Orange Caligula’s racist rhetoric. The players rejected this letter. But that wasn’t all they did. Come August, they wore simple black shirts with a simple and direct message: Vote Warnock. 

It’s worth noting that at the time she was leading the polls against Reverend Warnock. But within three days of the shirts, Warnock’s campaign raised over $236,000 and gained 4,000 new followers on Twitter. Support for the Reverend grew, and on election day the votes were so close, it triggered the most tense runoff perhaps EVER? The results of the Georgia runoff, for both Loefller/Warnock and Ossof/Perdue, would determine the majority of the Senate. But of course the implications are so much larger than just Georgia or just the Senate, as these wins in Georgia mean a Dem-controlled House, Senate and White House.

This Tuesday, the race was called. Warnock defeated Loeffler. Georgia turned blue. The Senate is 50/50, and the Majority Leader spot goes to Chuck Schumer. This country’s still got 99 problems but in a couple weeks, Mitch ain’t one.

The Shirts

The shirts didn’t just materialize. And the players most certainly didn’t just pick a random candidate. After Loeffler’s letter denouncing the BLM movement, the league released a two-sentence statement in response. Disappointed with that response, a small leadership group of players decided to meet with legendary basketball lesbian Sue Bird. Executive director of the WNBA players’ union Terry Jackson said she “applauded the players for being honest with themselves and each other and reaching out across all the teams and letting their White sisters know we need you in this. And Sue’s like, ‘I got you.’ ”

Then, the players requested Zoom calls with all the candidates before deciding on Warnock. It was actually Bird’s idea to wear the shirts. “We kind of took that part out of it and redirected all of our energy and support into Reverend Warnock, and it got us back in line with what we got into that bubble season for anyway — to talk about Black Lives Matter, to talk about ‘Say Her Name,’ to encourage people to vote.” She states. 

“When we wore the Warnock shirts, we didn’t just wear them because Kelly denounced the Black Lives Matter [movement]. We did our research,” said another lesbian Olympian, Angel McCoughtry, who spent 10 seasons in Atlanta before playing for the Las Vegas Aces. Players from across the league, not only those playing for Atlanta, wore the shirts. By the end of the week, Warnock had surpassed Loeffler in the polls. And now, thanks in part to the efforts of these WNBA players, the senate has been flipped. 

What’s Next?

We don’t know. As of yet, there have been no plans for Loeffler to sell her stake. But, she is unwelcome by her team. And can you blame them? Not only is she racist, she publicly put them on blast. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert said she would not force Loeffler to sell her stake despite the players’ union indicating they do not want her as part of the team. Mary Brock, majority owner of the Dream has explored sales options, but nothing is concrete. And just recently, NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted about possibly putting together an ownership group for the team. But only time will tell what happens. For now, we can rejoice in our little victories during this seemingly never-ending nightmare.

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