Once again, Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last December to replace the ailing Senator Johnny Isakson, but quickly became infamous for questionable financial dealings. Loeffler and her husband, who is the head of the New York Stock Exchange, made millions selling off stocks after she sat in on closed-door briefings about the potential impact of COVID-19, right before the market tanked. This time, Loeffler is in hot water for another one of her financial interests: her ownership of the Atlanta Dream.

Last month, Loeffler penned a letter condemning the league’s latest commitments supporting the Black Lives Matter movement – a stance she has since doubled down on several times. This immediately drew ire from players across the board, including the Atlanta Dream roster and the WNBA Players Association, who has since called for Loeffler’s removal as a team owner. This week, players from multiple teams further showed their distaste for Loeffler’s comments by wearing shirts with the slogan “Vote Warnock” – a bold endorsement of one of Loeffler’s Democratic challengers in her upcoming race.

There’s a lot to unpack here. For starters, the WNBA has a longstanding history of showing out for social justice – even more so than its male counterpart. Loeffler has been a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream since 2011, so the league’s decision to endorse the Black Lives Matter movement, and social justice-oriented slogans affirming Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality on players’ uniforms shouldn’t come as a surprise.

And yet, Loeffler has chosen this moment to shove her foot impressively far down into her mouth, and condemn Black Lives Matter as a violent, “anti-Semitic” group based on “Marxist principles” that is hell-bent on destroying the American nuclear family structure. If that wasn’t enough, Loeffler is pushing not just a retraction of the league’s commitments, but a replacement; her letter to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert ends with a half-cooked, meandering ode to the American flag, which she demands be placed on players’ uniforms instead.

The timing is more than suspect – it’s blatantly despicable. Loeffler’s plea that we keep politics out of sports has nothing to do with creating an environment of “inclusion,” but likely everything to do with her upcoming election. It’s not a great look to her far-right supporters that she’s the co-owner of a team that has honored Stacey Abrams, who lost a stolen election to current Republican Governor Brian Kemp, and has become a lightning rod for the Democratic Party since. They’ve also donated part of their ticket proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Her strongest Republican challenger has repeatedly poked at both these sore points as signs that Loeffler isn’t a committed Republican. To speak up now and try to score points with voters by politicizing a human rights issue – literally, the fundamental right to live and prosper – is beyond disgusting, but a sign of just how far gone American democracy is.

Loeffler’s original letter itself is, generally speaking, trash. However, if there’s one part that stings the most, it’s that her statements – racist as they are – are actually emblematic of the issue with so many non-Black people that are claiming to support Black lives right now, but refuse to support Black Lives Matter. What Kelly Loeffler and her supporters don’t seem to understand is that there’s a difference between saying empty words, and taking actual action to give teeth to them.

Just saying the words “Black lives matter” means nothing. It’s the bare minimum, and yet, because the bar is on the floor, has become the baseline, go-to statement for people to “prove” that they’re “not racist.” But the fact remains that if you don’t support the movement that’s actively working to drive real change – whether it’s financially, educationally, or physically – you aren’t really saying that Black lives matter – you’re saying Black lives matter, but only when it’s convenient for you.

Loeffler is right about one thing, I’ll give her that: Sports are beautiful because they bring together people from all walks of life, and they do have the power to be unifying. But that’s exactly why they’ve historically been a driving force for social change: they bring people together to unite around a common cause. It just so happens that sometimes, that cause actually extends beyond the stadiums. People don’t idolize Muhammad Ali because he kept his mouth shut. The NFL didn’t try to ban kneeling during the National Anthem and then finally admit its ban was a sham for naught.

The WNBA released a statement clarifying that Loeffler hasn’t been involved with the Atlanta Dream’s day-to-day operations since October 2019, and ultimately has chosen not to remove her. It’s hard to not think that it was a purely financial decision. Kelly Loeffler is not the first racist white owner of a predominantly Black team, nor will she be the last one. Donald Sterling was removed from his ownership of the LA Clippers in 2014, but only because of a sufficient outpouring of condemnation from players and sponsors after years of other NBA owners and community members looking past his racist antics. Loeffler likely won’t be removed unless players and their supporters continue to rally harder. I for one, will be more than happy to join them.

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  • Sumaia Masoom

    Sumaia Masoom is the proud daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants and a graduate of Northwestern University's School of Education & Social Policy. A product of rural Wisconsin and later the Chicago immigrant & refugee rights organizing community, she's equal parts passionate about college sports and diversity & inclusion – of identities, em-dashes, and free food in lunch meetings.