There is player empowerment in the age of COVID, there is player empowerment in the age of civil unrest, and then there is WNBA player empowerment in the face of politics. In other words, the Kelly Loeffler story just got delightfully weird.
Now we'll catch you all up. Kelly Loeffler is a Republican senator from Georgia who owns a sizable chunk of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. She is also in a hotly contested special election with, among others, the Reverend Raphael Warnock.
Wait, we're getting to the good part.
Loeffler is, as you would expect given her other political positions and generally ardent support for President Trump, an opponent of the Black Lives Matter movement, and more specifically as it pertains to the WNBA and the support the players offer it. She has gone so far as to say that the league should mandate the excision of any BLM or like-minded slogans on player gear and its replacement with the American flag, mostly because it's a handy dog whistle in an election cycle.
Well, you don't try to do WNBA players that way, especially in the era of player empowerment. So after urging unsuccessfully that she be removed as Dream co-owner, many of the league's players, recognizing her campaign to undermine the league's employees, decided to help remove her in the role she cherishes far more. So they (at least many of them) showed up to work Tuesday night at the Bradenton, FL, bubble where the league is resuming play wearing "VOTE WARNOCK" t-shirts.
Now there, kids, is how you put a finger into the eye of a politician who wants to get rid of politics in sports by introducing different politics into sports. It is a brilliant tactical pivot made even more so by its sheer audacity. It is the perfect "We're going noplace but right in your face" approach that such a confluence of events demands.
Loeffler's politics would never have resounded well with the WNBA rank-and-file anyway, but the players kept in their rhetorical lane about her until she used them so clumsily as a campaign plank against fellow Republican Doug Collins (who is definitely not the former NBA player). Warnock sits fourth in up-to-date polling behind fellow Democrat Mark Lieberman, so it isn't likely that the WNBA players aren't going to tilt the election toward Warnock as much as they could against Loeffler, who has moved consistently toward the right since Collins joined the race. Or, given Georgia's place in the political spectrum, they'll have no effect whatsoever.
Or, and we should consider this as well, all polls are nonsense, and opinions in August can be changed just as easily as votes can be suppressed.
Which, of course, is beside the central point the players are trying to make, which is to make Loeffler's experience as a team owner as unpleasant as possible to match her rhetoric the other way. They chose Warnock after looking at all the candidates and voted their consciences rather than expediency because changing names isn't the same as changing the direction of the nation. Their main plank was to make Loeffler suffer for choosing them as political stalking horses, and it helped if they could either force to sell her holding out of anger, make the league try to ease her out of the franchise, or turn her into a spite owner whose team would always have trouble with player recruitment specifically because of her. And what's the fun of that?
They haven't said any of this as a unified group, but the effect of jamming their collective finger into her eye is largely the same. It's a simple, unambiguous "You mess with us, we mess back" and, let's be honest, the Dream isn't such a lucrative company that the money makes being that public an enemy worth the bother.
Of course, Loeffler doubled down in a statement later that evening because elections demand that sort of thing — remember, we told you "delightfully weird" — and unless the senator wants to start firing the players under her contractual control (which would mean not only a fight with her co-owner, Mary Rockett Brock, but the NBA, which underwrites half the league), we'll just have to stay alert to developments.
And there will be developments, because as Tuesday's episode shows, WNBA players don't do "My bad" and slink away. They stay for the fireworks. They backsass, and they do it exceedingly well.