By Cory Utsey
Raphael Warnock has become the first Black senator in the state of Georgia, a feat that serves as a powerful statement for the beginning of 2021. This historic win can be greatly attributed to Georgia’s local organizers and voters, but also to the WNBA players who made major contributions.
Women across the league helped boost Warnock’s name and platform while in the WNBA bubble, including promoting t-shirts that read “VOTE WARNOCK” before and after games. They also emphasized voter turnout and voter registration on their personal platforms.
As a league that has prioritized social justice advocacy and ending police brutality within the past few years, it was important that players endorse a candidate whose values were aligned with their own—even if this meant that the candidate might oust one of their own team owners. Former Senator Kelly Loeffler, the Georgia Senate’s incumbent and a partial-owner of the Atlanta Dream, expressed opposition to the WNBA’s involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement in July 2020. In a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, she claimed that the movement promotes violence and opposes the values of both the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream.
This letter was ultimately seen as the prioritization of Loeffler’s political aims— the Senate re-election—over the desire of many women within the majority-Black league to advocate for political and social change. In turn, players in and outside of the Atlanta Dream searched for a candidate that would better represent their values and decided on Warnock, who advocates for criminal justice reform and LGBTQ+ rights.
By circulating Warnock’s name on media platforms, while stressing the general importance of voting, the WNBA athletes directly aided the significant increase of Warnock’s numbers throughout this election season. He was polling at 9% before their August endorsement and, by November, his progress warranted a runoff.
Atlanta Dream players continued the league’s overall voting push in a social media campaign with More Than A Vote on January 5, the day of the Georgia Senate runoff. Though Warnock and Loeffler were not explicitly mentioned, the video contained images of Breonna Taylor, kneeling players, and recent protests. While the athletes of the WNBA are not the sole reason for Warnock’s success in this election, the results of their persistence and passion could certainly be indicative of the power in athletes using their platforms for causes they believe in, and it is unlikely that their work will end here.
Cory Utsey is a freelance writer and blogger studying journalism at Howard University. With interests in social justice, entertainment, and intersectionality, her aim is to promote equity and diversity through her writing.