Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler isn’t just battling with Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock for a hotly contested Senate seat in the state of Georgia.
She’s also battling against her own team.
Loeffler, the CEO-turned-senator whose fate will be decided in the runoff election Tuesday, has been a part owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream in 2011.
Last summer, in the wake of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s deaths, the league’s players – who are mostly Black women – worked to leverage their platform while playing out the 2020 season in a COVID-safe bubble in Florida.
In July, the WNBA announced it would dedicate the season to social justice. Its most public efforts included players league-wide wearing “Black Lives Matter” warm-up shirts, and Taylor’s name would adorn the backs of their jerseys.
Loeffler took issue with the decisions in a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, which was later made public.
“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,” she wrote, saying that highlighting one “particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.”
Players responded vocally, with the union calling for Loeffler to be removed from her role as part owner. They escalated their work further when players coordinated a plan to wear “Vote Warnock” shirts before games for a week in early August.
The focus, Dream player Elizabeth Williams said at the time, was to avoid discussing Loeffler, and instead focus on supporting an opponent.
“For effective change to happen, there has to be policy changes,” Williams told ESPN in August. “And so if we’re going to sit here and talk about wanting justice reform, part of that is making sure that we have officials in office that understand that.”
The players rallied around Warnock amid a crowded field. And it paid off: a Warnock spokesperson said at the time that more than $230,000 in donations came in after the players’ T-shirt endorsement.
Warnock credited the WNBA players with jumpstarting the conversation around his campaign.
“I think it was helpful,” he told USA Today. “It was one of the many turning points in the campaign. It gave people a chance to look a little closer and say, ‘Who is this Warnock guy and what is he about?’ "
After the season ended, the work ahead of Election Day continued.
When Warnock and Loeffler emerged as top vote-getters and the runoff was set, Dream players stepped up their efforts.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, four players – Williams, Courtney Williams, Tiffany Hayes, and Renee Montgomery – voiced an ad for the nonprofit “More Than A Vote,” an organization with which a number of notable Black athletes and pop culture figures have aligned behind to help fight against voter suppression, especially among Black communities.
The ad doesn’t endorse one candidate over the other, but overlays images of Black Lives Matter protests and WNBA players kneeling before games.
“There are moments that make or break us,” the video begins. “There are moments that challenge us. There are moments that make history. And this moment chose us.”
The advertisement calls for viewers to vote in Georgia on Tuesday in the election that will decide which political party controls the Senate.
“We’ve already made history in this runoff,” the ad continues, referencing historic early-voter turnout. “This is an opportunity to do it again. Leaders aren’t made on the sidelines, they’re made during the game.”