Some WNBA players celebrated on Wednesday after Democrat Raphael Warnock wasincumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler in a critical Senate runoff election in Georgia. WNBA players campaigned for Warnock after Loeffler, the co-owner of the WNBA team the Atlanta Dream, criticized the league's support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Woke up and just smiled remembering that one time Kelly Loeffler tried to come for the W and we helped @ReverendWarnock take her senate seat," New York Liberty player Layshia Clarendon tweeted Wednesday. "Winning never felt so damn good."
"Not only is Raphael Warnock Georgia's first black senator, but also the first Black democratic senator EVER elected in the south," wrote Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner. "50 years ago that was unimaginable. I wonder where the south will be 50 years from today."
The WNBA and the Atlanta Dream made headlines with their league-wide support of Black Lives Matter during the summer with BLM warm-ups and jerseys, a statement Loeffler rejected in June and asked WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to end.
In a statement deriding the protest in August, Loeffler called the players' shirts a sign of cancel culture. "This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them," she said. "It's clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June."
In response, the Atlanta Dream and other high ranking members of the WNBA endorsed Reverend Warnock, going so far as to wear "Vote Warnock" shirts at their games.
Atlanta Dream forward Elizabeth Williams told The New York Times that the idea for the shirts came from WNBA Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird. Bird, who shared a photo of herself in the Warnock t-shirt on Wednesday, told Deadspin last month that the players chose not to attack Loeffler and to support Warnock instead.
"We found this voice we have together is pretty powerful," Bird told the sports outlet. "The size of our league allows for this, we have about 144 players in the league, but we've had to go through our careers fighting for things... So we've developed this backbone and we've learned to fight for ourselves. And now we're lending that fight to others."
The Times also reported that the idea was discussed and approved by Stacey Abrams, who holds an advisory position to the WNBA Players Association's board. Only two days after players wore the shirts, the campaign raised more than $185,000 online, added 3,500 grassroots donors and grew Warnock's Twitter account by nearly 3,500 followers, a campaign official told CBS News.
Players maintained their activism in the months that followed, serving as poll workers and "More Than A Vote" ad released Monday that called for people to vote in the Georgia runoff races. In the video, Williams called on her followers to vote for Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the other Democrat running for a Senate seat.in the months leading up to Election Day. Dream player Renee Montgomery opted out of last season entirely to fight for social justice reform and voter advocacy in Georgia. Some Dream players narrated a
Warnock is poised to be the first Black senator in Georgia history. Exit poll data shows he won 92% of the state's Black vote.
"We were told that we couldn't win this election," Warnock said while addressing supporters Wednesday. "But tonight we proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible. May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold of the American dream."
While the WNBA's protest also called for Loeffler's removal, neither she nor co-owner Mary Brock have said the Dream is for sale. However, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James put his hat in the ring as a potential buyer, suggesting on Twitter that he wants to "put together an ownership group" to purchase the team. James, who leads More Than a Vote, also said he was "proud" of what he saw from Georgia voters on Tuesday.
"I'm proud of my people for getting out there and doing what they do best," James told reporters. "And that's being heard and being seen and being powerful and being engaged."