After Atlanta Dream co-owner Sen. Kelly Loeffler derided the WNBA for dedicating its season to social justice, players showed up on game day wearing t-shirts endorsing her opponent in this November's special election.
Sen. Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia and an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, slammed the t-shirt campaign, claiming to be a target of "out of control cancel culture." But Dream forward Elizabeth Williams, 27, says their efforts aren't a cause celebre. but a unified movement to push for actionable change. Below, Williams takes ELLE.com inside her team's fight to end systemic oppression on and off the court—no matter what management has to say.
So much of the conversation about Black Lives Matter centers around Black men. Sadly, a lot of the time, stories about Black women who have died from police violence never get heard or are forgotten over time. That's why we felt it was so important to dedicate our 2020 WNBA season to the #SayHerName campaign.
[Las Vegas Aces forward] Angel McCoughtry came up with the idea to put Breonna Taylor's name on the back of our jerseys. We coordinated with Nike and jumped on a call with Breonna's mother, who gave us her blessing.
A collective social justice movement of this magnitude was unprecedented—but not everyone was happy about the cause. I play for the Atlanta Dream and one of our team's co-owners, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, wrote a letter to the WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert calling Black Lives Matter “totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream.” In it, she suggested the WNBA instead put American flags on jerseys to unify "rallying point for the American people.”
That was tough to read. As a league made up of 80 percent black women, there are so many parts of Breonna's story that resonate with us. If Sen. Loeffler doesn't want to support what her players believe in, that's on her. If she wants to separate herself from the league, that's on her. But she shouldn't try to stop us from pursuing justice.
Several of my fellow Dream players and I released a collective call to action in response to Sen. Loeffler's letter: "It is not extreme to demand change after centuries of inequality. This is not a political statement. This is a statement of humanity.”
Many of us also came out in support of Dr. Raphael Warnock, who is running against Sen. Loeffler in a special election this November. After a phone call with him, we could see how passionate he was about fighting voter suppression and advocating for those who are marginalized. It felt like a perfect storm. His ideals perfectly aligned with this season's WNBA mission to make social justice a priority.
The fact that Dr. Warnock was even willing to have a conversation with us at all was huge. I haven't heard anything from Sen. Loeffler since this whole thing started. If she did reach out to me, I'd tell her that the Black Lives Matter movement is meant to unify. It's about being a voice for the voiceless in all facets of life, including, yes, sports. We won't just "shut up and dribble" anymore. We'll use our platform to speak out, and we have no intention of stopping.
Some are calling for Sen. Loeffler to resign, but when it comes to ownership, that's on the WNBA. The league now has a unique opportunity to double down on what diversity and inclusion look like moving forward. I hope they do the right thing.
I'm glad WNBA players are leaders in the discourse on social justice in sports, focusing specifically on making effective change at the polls. As we get closer and closer to elections, we will continue to emphasize the importance of voting.
We'll also be intentional about our work off the court. We'll be strategic about what we oppose and how we convey that. And we'll unify our message, because there's always strength in numbers.
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