Angel McCoughtry, who was drafted by the Dream in 2009 and still lives in Atlanta, spent the last few months supporting Rev. Raphael Warnock’s candidacy for Georgia Senate over the woman who essentially signed her checks for years.
And now, thanks in part to players who upped Warnock’s name recognition by putting it on the t-shirts they wore on pre-game warmups, Dream owner Kelly Loeffler has lost a Senate seat she was never elected to. She’s been defeated, 86’d, ethered and Martha McSally’d by the very women she felt free to assail as part of a campaign strategy.
If you were looking for the Democrats to take back the Senate in Tuesday’s special election, you can look to the WNBA as an important driver of Warnock’s support.
“I think what I found with our legacy, the platform and voice we have is real, and some people say it’s not as important as others, but that’s not the case,” McCoughtry said.
This is why they tell athletes to stick to politics, because if athletes realize their power, they can flip the Senate.
So maybe it wasn’t a great idea to use a group of predominantly Black women as a campaign foil, which is what Loeffler did. The WNBA players were supporting Black Lives Matter after George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks were killed by police officers. Loeffler used her association with the league to use this as a wedge issue.
In a letter to WNBA president Cathy Engelbert, Loeffler wrote:
“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.”
Just in case it needs to be said, WNBA players were not calling for the removal of Jesus. What they were doing was what many were doing nationally at that moment, questioning the systems that have been richly funded, but can mean a man gets a knee on his neck until the breath leaves his body, or a young essential worker is shot to death in her own apartment at night, or someone suffering from mental illness receives an armed response instead of care worker.
Sports owners take political stands that disadvantage their players all the time. Think about the seven NFL owners who each donated $1 million, either personally or via a corporate entity, to Trump’s inaugural committee. Trump’s presidency empowered white nationalists across the country, hate-filled racists who marched in the streets of Charlottesville in 2017. One person who had espoused those views plowed into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer. Even now, nationalists have converged on Washington D.C. at the urging of the President, as he spends his final days in office raging at his loss.
Trump also took to Twitter and demanded consequences for players who supported community causes — from the owners who gave him money. The attempt to specifically silence athletes couldn’t have been more craven.
Players have known that if you cross an owner, you can be out of a job. Let me remind you that not only is Colin Kaepernick still without a job in the NFL, so is Eric Reid, who knelt alongside him. So even as Black players became a staple of leagues like the NBA and NFL, there was an unspoken understanding — that being too outspoken was a risk. Trump brought that implicit understanding into the open.
Loeffler was appointed to her seat in late 2019 to fill a vacancy. She immediately became the richest member of the Senate and her election was considered a shoo-in — a Republican in Georgia? The election was a formality.
This is the environment in which the WNBA players went to work. Sue Bird gets into the details about how the Dream players came to wear the Warnock t-shirts during a warmup for a nationally televised game. She will also be our guest this week on The Ladies Room sports podcast, where Julie DiCaro and I will ask her whether she has a list like Arya Stark.
It was because of the WNBA bubble this summer that players had the time and focus to approach the Loeffler problem so brilliantly. Those women risked their livelihoods to speak out, and have likely won new fans. One thing about the WNBA fan base, they are not frightened by strong, confident women.
Like McCoughtry said, these players have been told their platform wasn’t large enough, that their game isn’t popular enough, that no one cares about women’s sports. And they’ve disproven all of it.
Support these players on the court next season if you haven’t already. They’re earned your attention and respect.
Ratings went up this summer for the league this summer, but there is no glass ceiling for those numbers. Buy a post-pandemic ticket, pick a favorite player and buy a jersey. If you don’t want to give team owners the money, the WNBA Players Association has a line of merch available for your perusal. Clap back at the jerks on social media, and in real life, who slander women’s sports and athletes.
They’ve been voted out.