If you’re a Georgia Republican running for re-election, slamming Black Lives Matter is potent political currency.
This certainly seems true for U.S. Sen. and co-owner of the WNBA team the Atlanta Dream Kelly Loeffler, who was a political nobody outside the state of Georgia until she criticized the league for making “Black Lives Matter” such a prominent part of their 2020 season.
Since then, Loeffler’s anti-BLM stance has been a prominent part of her campaign, and she has seen her fundraising efforts surge in recent weeks as she seeks to capture the seat of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. As the Associated Press reports, Loeffler was appointed to the seat by Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year and is now running to keep it.
But protesters pushed back against Loeffler on Thursday, when she appeared alongside Arkansas Sen. Tom “Send in the Troops” Cotton on the last stop of her “All About George” campaign tour.
Loeffler launched into remarks about her opposition to Black Lives Matter at the event.
“The left’s radical agenda of defunding the police is costing lives. It’s absolutely crazy. I’ve introduced legislation that would defund cities that defund the police,” Loeffler said. “But even more, I’ve stood up against an organization whose No. 1 goal is to defund and dismantle the police.”
She was interrupted by two Black women, Nselaa Ward and Triana Arnold James, who contested the senator’s remarks. James, who ran for a Democratic state Senate seat earlier this year, questioned Loeffler before she and Ward started chanting “Black Lives Matter” to the conservative room.
Loeffler seized upon the disruption, sharing a video and a writeup of the incident on her Twitter page.
“Make no mistake—when the radical left attacks me, their real target is YOU,” Loeffler warned her Twitter supporters.
Before taking her anti-BLM stance, Loeffler had been in a tight race with challenger Doug Collins, a staunch Donald Trump supporter who has painted Loeffler as an out-of-touch, Planned Parenthood-embracing millionaire who once made the cardinal sin of saying something nice about Stacey Abrams. Loeffler was also under fire earlier this year for selling $20 million in stock after a Senate briefing about the coronavirus.
But in the last couple of months, Loeffler has gained considerable ground in the special election. An Aug. 11 poll from FiveThirtyEight showed her leading the crowded field of contenders with 26 percent. Collins and Democratic contender Raphael Warnock were tight in second, at 17 percent.
Loeffler’s political gains from her racist stances have factored into the WNBA’s collective actions against her.
The conflict between the players and Loeffler began in July when the senator wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert objecting to the league’s planned actions supporting Black Lives Matter, which include athletes wearing the names of prominent female victims of police brutality on their jerseys.
“Now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports,” Loeffler wrote in response.
“The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country,” she continued. “However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement.”
Loeffler suggested replacing BLM patches that would appear on team uniforms with American flags instead.
The letter drew sharp rebuke from WNBA players across the league, with the Players’ Association initially calling for Loeffler’s removal, tweeting on July 7, “E-N-O-U-G-H! O-U-T!” in response to her remarks.
Several days later, Dream players issued a collective statement of their own that read, “Our team is united in the Movement for Black Lives.”
But in August, the Atlanta Dream and other WNBA players chose a different tactic, wearing “Vote Warnock” shirts in support of Loeffler’s Democratic opponent during a nationally televised game. The move was a deliberate way to oppose Loeffler without mentioning her by name.
“Honestly, I think that she wants the league to push her out,” Atlanta Dream forward Elizabeth Williams told the New York Times. “She wants that to be part of this statement that she’s making that, ‘Oh, Black Lives Matter is divisive. They pushed me out because they feel differently, blah blah blah.”