When Atlanta Dream co-owner and Georgia Republican Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler expressed her opposition to the WNBA’s commitment to social justice, WNBA players offered their response: an endorsement of one of her Democratic opponents, Reverend Raphael Warnock.
WNBA players did not intended to play the political game, but Loeffler’s criticisms dragged them onto the court.
As Sue Bird shared on NBA player J.J. Redick’s podcast, The Old Man & the Three:
So all politicians are trying to say to us is ‘Keep politics out of sports! You know, ugh, this is where I want to go to just watch a game.’ And I’m like, I’m not the one that brought it in here ... As female athletes all we are are judged on everything except the game we’re playing. We’re being judged because we’re women. We’re being judged because we’re gay. We’re being judged because we’re Black. All of these political things are being brought to us and that’s how we’ve had to, like, find our way in this life ... We’ve had to battle that. It’s never just been about basketball for us. So, then to kind of flip it now and tell us not to be ‘political’?
Who is anyone to tell us as female athletes to just ‘stick to sports’? I mean, we’ve actually tried to do that; nobody would let us. So here we are, standing up for ourselves, which is something that is very natural for us at this point. And now we’re the one’s bringing the politics in?
On the most recent episode of the Just Women’s Sports podcast, WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike echoed Bird’s ideas in her conversation with host Kelley O’Hara:
Naturally we are, unfortunately and inherently, political. We don’t choose to be — it just is. ... That authenticity drives our action. And so we just naturally do and we naturally represent and speak out and effect change and hold people accountable and educate ourselves and our communities.
WNBA players would not “shut up and dribble.” Instead, they picked up the ball and scored points for causes and candidates they believe in. And by sharing voting messages and organizing voting initiatives, they are trying to run up the score and encourage fans and followers to use their voices to support people and policies that will help make possible a more equitable world.
You heard it! Over 90%.— WNBPA (@TheWNBPA) October 27, 2020
Be the change you want to see in the world. https://t.co/116T49EIn8
Here’s a snapshot of how and why WNBA players have gotten out the vote this election season:
While Natasha Cloud has announced her support for Joe Biden, she also has articulated the importance of state and local races, especially when it comes to achieving justice for Black women killed by police.
Cloud has emphasized that the Attorney General of Kentucky is an elected office. This means that the people of Kentucky have power over Daniel Cameron, the Attorney General who has resisted charging the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. Although Cameron was elected in 2019 and is not up for re-election until 2023, attorneys general and prosecutors in other states and localities are on the ballot. Cloud has underscored the importance of educating oneself on the positions of candidates for such offices.
More Than a Vote
Athletes across sports, including Cloud and her softball-playing fiancée Aleshia Ocasio, are part of More Than a Vote, the organization started this summer by LeBron James with the primary goal of protecting Black Americans’ right to vote. Other WNBA players, past and present, who are on the More Than a Vote team are: A’ja Wilson, Arike Ogunbowale, Brittney Griner, Chiney Ogwumike, Elizabeth Williams, Kristi Toliver, Lisa Leslie, Renee Montgomery and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
On why she became a founding member of the organization, Diggins-Smith told the New York Times, “I’m sick of seeing unarmed black men killed by the police” and that she desired “to put some action behind my frustration, behind my anger, behind the helplessness that I’ve been feeling.”
In September, Rock the Vote introduced Hoopers Vote, an initiative that called on WNBA and NBA players to encourage voter registration. WNBA players who participated include: Sue Bird, Nneka Ogwumike, Renee Montgomery, Layshia Clarendon, Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne.
WNBA legends Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo also got involved.
Engaging social media graphics were posted across platforms to urge all hoopers to make sure they were ready to exercise their right to vote.
Calling all hoopers young and seasoned! It’s time for all “Hoopers Vote”, Today is Hoopers Vote Day and I encourage all of my Ballers and shot callers to get out there and get registered. #HoopersVote #LetsGo We have to be the change we want to see!! pic.twitter.com/25tySZUN1J— Lisa Leslie (@LisaLeslie) September 24, 2020
When speaking with ESPN about Hoopers Vote, WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson connected voting to the causes to which WNBA players dedicated their 2020 season:
If we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, if we’re talking about the Say Her Name campaign and we’re talking about the policy initiatives that have to come out of that and surround that to really support those movements, that campaign, then we’re talking about voting.
Nneka & Chiney Ogwumike
Along with their involvement with Hoopers Vote and More Than a Vote, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, along with their sister Olivia, will be serving as poll workers in their hometown of Houston, Texas.
As Chiney wrote for Cosmopolitan.com:
On Nov. 3, I will be working the polls at the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets play, on Election Day with my sisters. The last time I was there, I remember hanging court-side with my big sis, watching James Harden and company fight for a victory. But now we are in the fight for our lives. Our collective votes will determine our next four years, as well as who sits in the country’s most sacred seat in that historic Oval Office. Don’t wait on the sidelines during the most important game of our lives.
in many ways, I am privileged.— Chiney Ogwumike (@chiney) October 29, 2020
in the middle of this pandemic, I am fortunate to have a job & one that I love.
for years, I have been on a grind to prove myself by working through birthdays, holidays, etc... but this feels different.
here’s why. https://t.co/axe4oDJJIH
After opting out of the 2020 WNBA season, Renee Montgomery has become a multimedia social justice warrior, utilizing her platforms to advocate for a variety of causes, including voting through More Than a Vote and Hoopers Vote.
Last week, she spoke with the Washington Post Live about getting out the vote, in spite of inconveniences and obstacles.
The night before the election, Montgomery, in partnership with More Than A Vote, hosted a virtual election eve pep rally, encouraging young athletes and fans to share their voting experiences.
The season dedicated to social justice continues.