Despite being in a Bubble like the NBA, the WNBA this season partnered with career activists and politicians to draw attention to police brutality, voting, and census registration. At one point, the players used their platforms to advocate for specific political candidates.
In a detailed new story at The Athletic, Chantel Jennings outlined the decision made by a number of players to endorse Rev. Raphael Warnock in the U.S. Senate race in Georgia. Most know the backstory of incumbent Kelly Loeffler, a part-owner of the Atlanta Dream, and how she bashed the league aligning itself with the Black Lives Matter movement, but Jennings explains how leaders in the WNBA arranged a call to learn more about Warnock’s candidacy.
In consultation with (former Georgia state representative Stacey) Abrams and former WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders, players arranged a Zoom call with one of Loeffler’s Democratic opponents, Reverend Raphael Warnock, for July 27, two days after their 2020 season had started.
Warnock wasn’t really sure what to expect from the call. He had followed the emerging storylines in his Senate race with his Republican opponent and he wanted to express his support of the players in using their voices and platform.
So, he was a bit surprised when they began asking about his platform.
Was he an ally of the LGBTQ+ community? What life experiences helped shape his political viewpoints? What was his record on reproductive health issues? What were his thoughts on criminal justice and police reform?
Hearing about how Warnock had led protests against police shootings as a young man and worked for a non-profit dedicated to voting rights convinced players to fully endorse the candidate. The Dream and Phoenix Mercury wore t-shirts as they entered the arena for a nationally televised game in August that said “Vote Warnock.” Kurt Streeter of the New York Times has noted Warnock’s campaign raised an uncharacteristically high $236,000 the day the teams donned those shirts.
In response, Warnock praised the women of the league.
“They’re showing a lot of courage, because I think there’s a lot of pressure for athletes not to take these kinds of risks, and some have chosen not to,” Warnock said. “But I think they heard, coming from the owner of the team in a way that was just unacceptable, that you should just shut up and play, and all they were trying to do was express their solidarity for the human rights of every citizen. And they decided that it was important for them to stand up and say, ‘You may own the team, but nobody owns our voice, and nobody owns our vote.’ ”
“It’s not surprising to me that athletes who experience the intersectionality of oppression — race, gender and sexual orientation — would be leading the way in this regard. I think it’s the ways in which they experience marginalization in so many ways that gives them a unique perspective and, yet again, a kind of courage and voice that is really leading the way for other athletes.”
Recent polling shows Warnock now leading both Loeffler and fellow Republican Doug Collins in the special election for a seat in the U.S. Senate — he would not automatically get the seat if he wins November’s election, though, because if no one in that race receives at least 50 percent of the vote then the top-2 candidates, regardless of party, will move on to a run-off early next year.