The answer is simple. Loeffler has to go.
She owns 49 percent of a team in a league in which 67 percent of the players are Black. As Loeffler’s Senate race wore on, the split between her and her team’s players only widened. You can be certain that Loeffler’s harsh attacks on past sermons by Warnock, the pastor at the fabled Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, infuriated not only Black religious leaders but many other Black Atlantans. Also, in December, she was photographed with a former Ku Klux Klan leader, Chester Doles, at a campaign event. Loeffler’s campaign later explained that she had no idea who Doles was. But her tendency to draw supporters like him was alarming.
Renee Montgomery, an Atlanta Dream point guard, told me that she would have a hard time playing for Loeffler again, though ultimately she would want to show solidarity with her teammates. “It would be uncomfortable because I’d like to think that I stand for something,” said Montgomery, who opted out of the WNBA’s pandemic-disrupted 2020 season to focus on social-justice activism instead.
Jemele Hill: Black athletes should never stick to sports again
Ousting Loeffler won’t be easy. The defeated senator, who has portrayed herself as a victim of “cancel culture,” has insisted that she doesn’t want to sell. Although her comments about Black Lives Matter were distasteful, they were less overtly offensive than the racist comments made by the former NBA owner Donald Sterling, who was banned from the league for life in 2014 after audio tapes of his remarks emerged. In addition to being banned, Sterling was fined $2.5 million—the maximum amount that the league could levy—and he eventually had to sell his team, the Los Angeles Clippers, following a lengthy legal battle.
The NBA didn’t have much choice but to force Sterling out, especially after LeBron James, who at the time played for the Miami Heat, publicly stated that someone like Sterling didn’t belong in the league. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver couldn’t risk alienating James, the biggest star in the league, nor could he jeopardize his credibility with the rest of the league’s Black players.
WNBA players have been just as vocal about Loeffler’s presence in their league, but unfortunately they don’t possess James’s leverage. That’s why the only thing WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has done so far is assure the public that Loeffler’s views about Black Lives Matter “are not consistent with those of the WNBA and its players.”
A lukewarm statement isn’t good enough. For years, the WNBA has built social justice into its brand. In 2014, it was the first professional sports league to announce an official LGBTQ Pride campaign. In 2018, the league announced a campaign in which a portion of ticket sales would support Planned Parenthood and other nonprofits devoted to women’s and girls’ well-being.