By AMITIS TAJALLAEI
The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) have long been champions of social justice. Both leagues have continuously embraced their players’ fight for equality, becoming even more prevalent since Minnesota police killed George Floyd. However, the WNBA’s progressive values have lately conflicted with those of Atlanta Dream co-owner and former Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who has condemned the Black Lives Matter (BLM), arguably an example of the politicization of professional sports.
Kelly Loeffler’s presence in the league has been at the center of controversy for the past couple of months. Several players have called for her to sell her share of the Atlanta Dream because the WNBA team does not hold her conservative views. According to The Atlantic, 67% of WNBA players are Black, align themselves with progressive ideas, and have shown public support for BLM. However, the former Georgia senator has called the Black Lives Matter movement, “a very divisive organization” that “promotes violence and destruction across the country” and “seeks to destroy American principles.” Her actions have created some discomfort as she has refused to remove herself from the league. Furthermore, she has refused to sell her share of the Atlanta Dream, which caused players to campaign against her.
“Kelly’s views are not consistent with those of the WNBA and its players,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ABC News.
In the days leading up to the Georgia senate race, several players were photographed endorsing Loeffler’s opponent, Raphael Warnock. Wearing the slogan “Vote Warnock” printed on the front, the Atlanta Dream helped raise $236,000 in donations for Warnock’s campaign. Warnock won the Georgia senate race, and the Atlanta Dream helped remove Loeffler from office. However, her presence in the league remains a source of conflict.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James has been at the forefront of the social justice movement in basketball. In early January, he offered to buy Loeffler’s share of the Atlanta Dream to extinguish her presence from the league.
“Think I’m gone, put together an ownership group for The Dream. Whose in?” James tweeted.
LeBron has repeatedly used his platform to speak out against social and political issues. In 2014, he and other players on the Cleveland Cavaliers wore a shirt saying “I Can’t Breathe” before a game to protest Eric Garner’s death. In 2012, LeBron and his Miami Heat teammates wore hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, another victim of racial violence.
LeBron has been criticized for speaking out about social issues throughout his career because some spectators claim that sports and politics should not mix. In 2018, Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble” when discussing the challenges of being Black in America with Kevin Durant.
“We will not shut up and dribble,” James said to reporters at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game.
“I mean too much to society, too much to the youth, too much to so many kids who feel like they don’t have a way out,” he continued.
In addition to using his platform to raise awareness and speak on social issues, LeBron has also created a campaign and voting rights group to protect Black Americans’ voting rights. The organization is called “More Than a Vote” and focuses on combating voter suppression and helping disenfranchised voters register to vote and cast a ballot.
“This is the time for us to make a difference finally,” James told the New York Times regarding the group, “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.”
LeBron’s views on current social and political issues explain his interest in buying the Atlanta Dream. Spectators say his WNBA presence would help progress many movements since the league shares his off-court values. Regardless of this backlash and the pressure from the fan base, Loeffler is not obligated to sell.
Although ousting Loeffler will be challenging, LeBron’s presence in the past in similar situations, such as the Donald Sterling scandal, has been successful due to his popularity. In 2014, an audiotape of Sterling of him making overtly offensive and racist comments was leaked. Although the comments made by Sterling were far more offensive than those made by Loeffler, it’s important to note that he was banned from the NBA for life, fined 2.5 million dollars, and eventually was forced to sell his team.
After LeBron’s avocation to oust Sterling, the NBA was heavily pressured to force Sterling out of the league, which initiated long legal battles. The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, could not risk alienating one of the most popular league players, LeBron James. Similarly, James’s offer to buy the Atlanta Dream gives the WNBA more leverage to force Loeffler out of the league.
The removal of Loeffler, especially with the interference of a prominent athlete and activist like LeBron James, would not only bring an influx of positive press for the WNBA but would remove the image Loeffler’s opposing political views have created for the team.
Photo Courtesy of The New York Post