In retrospect, Kelly Loeffler should have sold off her share of ownership of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream before accepting an appointment to the U.S. Senate from Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp. Thanks to an almost immediate challenge from conservative congressman Doug Collins to Loeffler’s candidacy in a November nonpartisan special election, she has been incessantly Trumpy in virtually every public utterance. That is not, to put it mildly, consistent with the ethic of the WNBA, a league that has been strongly committed to racial justice and to LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Presumably the fact that her role with the Dream was the only thing that made her anything other than a very rich person married to another very rich person (her husband is Jeffrey Sprecher, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange) convinced Loeffler to stay in the WNBA. Now she seems inclined to triangulate against her own franchise, as Greg Bluestein and Bria Felicien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution report:
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler objected to the WNBA’s plans to honor the Black Lives Matter movement, warning Tuesday that subscribing to a “particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.”
Loeffler, a Republican who co-owns Atlanta’s WNBA franchise, urged Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a letter to scrap plans for players to wear warmup jerseys reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” and instead put an American flag on all uniforms and apparel.
This transpired after Loeffler antagonized Dream players and supporters with abrasive comments about racial-justice protesters in Atlanta:
High-profile WNBA players like Sue Bird, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Natasha Cloud recently urged Engelbert to sanction Loeffler after she referred to armed Black protesters gathered near the site of Rayshard Brooks’ shooting death in Atlanta as “mob rule.”
A Dream player mocked Loeffler for forgetting her gun-rights commitments as a conservative Republican:
Dream guard Renee Montgomery, who is sitting out the 2020 WNBA season to focus on social justice initiatives, responded to the video circulating with Loeffler’s mob rule comments.
“The second amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights,” Montgomery wrote on Twitter. “The problem some may be having is who is bearing the arms.”
Perhaps Loeffler will bail from the WNBA and whine about her lost investment, or maybe she’ll hang in there and become a pariah, which might win her sympathy from her intended audience — particularly the man in the White House. She’s well on the way to disgrace, as USA Today reports:
Some in the sport, including NBA Hall of Famer Alex English, compared the situation to that of Donald Sterling, who was banned for life from the NBA and forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after recordings of racist comments were made public.
However she plays it, Loeffler is already assuaging conservative concerns about her connection to the WNBA that arose before and after Kemp defied Trump (who wanted Doug Collins in the seat) and put her in the Senate, as the AJC reported in January:
As her name emerged as a likely choice by Gov. Brian Kemp to succeed the retiring Johnny Isakson in the Senate, conservative activists circulated photos of the Dream in June celebrating LGBTQ rights and shared reminders of the team’s stance on a hot-button legislative debate.
A league initiative that gave fans an option to donate a portion of ticket sales to Planned Parenthood, an influential abortion rights group, also triggered pushback from anti-abortion activists who tried to paint Loeffler as lukewarm on the issue.
And pictures of her midcourt smiling beside Democrat Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s political archrival, at an Atlanta Dream playoff game quickly became ammo for some grassroots activists eager to cast Loeffler as a closeted liberal.
So in the eyes of Republicans choosing between Loeffler and Collins, Trump’s pit bull during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment proceedings, every bit of hostility WNBA players and fans exhibit toward the Dream co-owner is political money in the bank. And speaking of money, don’t be surprised if Loeffler’s lavishly self-funded campaign starts running ads lashing the team and league that put her on the map and/or painting her as the victim of political correctness. If she gets past Collins in November and faces Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock in a likely January runoff, she may pay for some of the positions she is taking now, but as fictional Georgia character Scarlett O’Hara famously put it: “Tomorrow is another day.”