The Democratic Party’s victory in the Georgia runoff elections has been discussed at length over the past week, but the role of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players in those elections has not been given enough credit.
Democratic candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their respective races in the Georgia runoff elections for the U.S. Senate last week. This was a monumental victory for the Democratic Party, as they now have a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Ossoff and Warnock have become Georgia’s first Jewish senator and first Black senator respectively, and their campaigns supported drastically different ideologies on social and economic issues than those of their Republican opponents, both of whom are strong supporters of President Trump.
Warnock’s race against businesswoman and former senator Kelly Loeffler, who publicly denounced the Black Lives Matter movement, represented much more than a Senate seat; it reflected the divide between the ideologies of white supremacy and Black liberation that is at the center of conversations across the nation.
The Warnock vs. Loeffler race was especially personal for the Atlanta Dream, the city’s WNBA team. Loeffler is a co-owner of the Dream and has vehemently opposed the league’s activism for Black Lives Matter, including players wearing the phrases “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” on their jerseys.
The WNBA primarily consists of Black and/or African American players, and it is a league that has been at the forefront of activism for racial justice for a long time. The Minnesota Lynx protested police brutality at a press conference months before former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick famously took a knee during the national anthem, and star forward Maya Moore opted out of an entire WNBA season to work on freeing Jonathan Irons from prison, a man who was sentenced to fifty years as a teenager for burglary and assault despite a lack of DNA evidence, fingerprints or witnesses to prove his guilt.
Because of their dedication to Black Lives Matter and fighting for racial justice, the Dream and other WNBA teams started a movement to bring awareness to Warnock’s campaign. Players wore “Vote Warnock” t-shirts on national television and social media and spoke publicly about their reasons for supporting his campaign.
“We are @wnba players, but like the late, great John Lewis said, we are also ordinary people with extraordinary vision. @ReverendWarnock has spent his life fighting for the people and we need him in Washington,” Dream center/power forward Elizabeth Williams tweeted during this movement in August.
The WNBA’s activism played a significant role in Warnock’s victory. Data shows that there was a 20% increase in donations to Warnock’s campaign in the two days following the WNBA’s t-shirt campaign, and the league’s tension with Loeffler over Black Lives Matter brought the race to a national stage all the way back in August.
While it was the work of voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and many grassroots organizers in Georgia that truly made the difference in the runoff races by fighting back against voter suppression, we should not forget the WNBA’s role in this historic election. This act of unity for a social justice movement by an entire league is rare, and collectively supporting and campaigning for a specific political candidate is practically unheard of. We are entering a new era of athlete activism, and the WNBA is at the helm.
The WNBA is constantly transforming our conceptions of what activism in sports can look like. This is a quality that characterizes not just women’s basketball but all women’s sports. Collegiate and professional sports for women were born out of activism and a need to fight for every opportunity, and that mindset continues to be one of the foundations of women’s sports today.
This is the opinion of Ellie Kinney, a junior communication studies major from Boston, Massachusetts. Tweet comments to @LAloyolan or email comments to email@example.com.