Candace Parker put it plainly during an appearance Tuesday night on TNT: “There’s no place in the league for her.”
The Sparks star was referencing Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia), the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA franchise, and her opposition to the league’s desire to promote social justice causes this season by displaying “Black Lives Matter” on the court and on warm-up shirts.
On Tuesday, the day after those plans were announced, Loeffler sent a letter to the league objecting.
“I was incredibly disappointed to read about efforts to insert a political platform into the league,” she wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Players, coaches, and yes – team owners – share differing opinions on many issues. All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.
“The truth is, we need less — not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.
“The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country,” Loeffler’s letter continued, in part. “However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.”
Her comments drew a swift reproach from WNBA players — including many members of the L.A. Sparks — both on social media and in nationally televised interviews.
The league itself issued a statement, expressing support for players’ social justice efforts and downplaying Loeffler’s role with the Dream: “Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not served as a Governor of the Atlanta Dream since October 2019 and is no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.”
Layshia Clarendon, a former star at San Bernardino Cajon High School who now plays for the New York Liberty and played for the Dream from 2016-18, objected to Loeffler’s position, including her stance on Black Lives Matter and her assertion that politics and sports should remain separate.
“As angry as I am, I’m really hurt because particularly for a woman to do that just kind of cuts the knife in a little bit deeper,” Clarendon said during an interview on ABC. “It’s really tough, and as a Black woman, and as a queer woman playing in sports, you know, my existence is political. Like, sport is political.”
Loeffler purchased a minority stake in the Dream in 2011. A financial executive, she’s described herself as a “lifelong conservative. Pro-Second Amendment. Pro-military. Pro-wall. And pro-Trump.”
Many of her views stand counter to those widely shared in the WNBA, which has embraced not only the Black Lives Matter movement, but many other progressive causes.
In 2016, for example, the Dream joined nearly 100 Georgia businesses that signed on to an organized effort to oppose religious liberty legislation that many in the gay community feared would allow for discrimination.
Last year, Loeffler distanced herself from her team’s stance on that issue, telling the Journal-Constitution: “I think people of faith should be protected. And we should all be able to act according to our religious beliefs,” and also, “I bought the Atlanta Dream because I love basketball. I wanted to do something for the city of Atlanta, for the Southeast, for sports. I did not buy the team for political purposes or political statements.”
In what CNN described as “a revolt,” WNBA players this week made it clear that they don’t want to be aligned with a woman who doesn’t stand with them in their advocacy for social justice, and they called for Loeffler to be removed from her ownership position.
The WNBA Players Association tweeted: “E-N-O-U-G-H! O-U-T!” in response to Loeffler’s letter, after which Seattle Storm star Sue Bird expounded some: “Kelly, No. Black lives matter. Period.” Added the Dallas Wings’ Skylar Diggins-Smith: “Kelly Loeffler’s gotta GO! Period.”
On TNT, the Sparks’ Parker said: “This is a league that is 80 percent African-American women. Talk about social economic background; gender; Black; talk about sexual orientation. There’s no place in this league.”
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 8, 2020
In 1996, Major League Baseball banned former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for racist, anti-semitic statements, and in 2014, the NBA forced former Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team after recordings of his racist remarks became a national story.
Retired NBA player Matt Barnes, who played for the Clippers in 2003-04 and again from 2012-15, recently told Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks that he thinks there are more sports team owners who share Sterling’s racist sentiments.
“There’s that good ’ol boy group of owners that were oil or real estate guys,” Barnes said. “Guys who are in their … late 60s, 70s, and on up. And that’s just how they were raised and how they were brought up. And they look at players as — I don’t want to use the word ‘slaves,’ that’s harsh — but with a kind of plantation view…
“(Sterling) wasn’t the only one to think like that, he’s just the only one dumb enough to get caught. But I guarantee there’s owners in these leagues … and if you come out and look at it, how many of these owners have really come out and spoke on behalf of us?”
I can’t believe I ever stepped foot in Kelly’s house and shared a meal with her. It’s actually really hurtful to see her true colors. I had no idea while I played for ATL she felt this way. Happy to own us as long as we stay quiet and perform 🤬👀 https://t.co/97jTbmuHda
— Layshia Clarendon (@Layshiac) July 7, 2020
Clarendon said she enjoyed her time with Loeffler, but she described feeling taken aback by the senator’s comments on Black Lives Matter.
“A lot of people are great with black people when they’re serving them in a different way,” Clarendon said. “And that’s what we’ve seen so often with sports, with culture, with music … you’re OK with black people as long as they kind of stay in their place or they’re performing or they’re sports stars. So now that we’re kind of taking our power back and asking for better policing and we’re asking for more resources to be poured in, I think it is uncomfortable.”
Loeffler was appointed in December to succeed U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired at year’s end because of health concerns. She’s up for re-election in November and facing a primary battle with Rep. Doug Collins.
Her dispute with the WNBA and its players over the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement has gained notice beyond basketball.
Stacey Abrams, who in 2018 became the first major party black woman nominee for governor in Georgia, called Loeffler’s letter: “a regrettable choice of division over unity,” on Twitter, adding, “As Americans proudly proclaim #BlackLivesMatter, GA GOP candidates act as if only Trump and their stock portfolios matter.”
Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Trump, tweeted her support: “Proud of @KLoeffler for standing up to the mob wanting sports to be about uniting people, not dividing people based on political agendas.”
For her part, Loeffler hasn’t budged, tweeting Wednesday: “BLM — which embraces anti-Semitism, supports defunding the police, and promotes violence — is a political movement totally misaligned with the values of the @WNBA & Atlanta Dream. Period.”
WNBA players aren’t hiding the fact that they disagree.
This is a regrettable choice of division over unity. As Americans proudly proclaim #BlackLivesMatter, GA GOP candidates act as if only Trump and their stock portfolios matter. @ReverendWarnock and @ossoff are the Sens we need; on the right side of history and will unite us #gapol https://t.co/iimj3Hrg4d
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) July 8, 2020
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) July 8, 2020