- WNBA players rebelled against Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler and endorsed Rafael Warnock, her opponent in one of Georgia’s Senate races.
- According to analysis conducted by The Washington Post’s Angele Delevoye, the players’ support for Warnock contributed to a boost in fundraising for his campaign and helped in the polls.
- Warnock is in a runoff against Loeffler to decide who controls the Senate, and players continue to support him.
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Democrat Raphael Warnock is headed to a runoff against incumbent Kelly Loeffler in their closely-watched race for one of Georgia’s open US Senate seats.
And stars across the WNBA were instrumental in getting him there.
Loeffler â€” who co-owns the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream â€” has been an outspoken ally to President Donald Trump ever since Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed her to the seat Republican Johnny Isakson abdicated in 2019. Unsurprisingly, players in the WNBA â€” a particularly progressive organisation that comprises 82.7% athletes of colour â€” did not take kindly to the slew of incendiary, racist comments from the newly-appointed senator that followed shortly thereafter.
In July, Loeffler penned a letter to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in which she objected to players’ plans to wear “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” warm-ups throughout the 2020 season. The senator called for the league “to remove politics from sports,” which prompted stars to demand that the WNBA remove herfrom the league’s ranks.
But when directly railing against Loeffler failed to spark change, the ballers instead shifted their attention to rallying behind her Democratic opponent in Georgia’s special election. Players endorsed Warnock and launched their collective support for his campaign by wearing “Vote Warnock” shirts before a slate of games in August.
Warnock himself acknowledged that their public backing “was helpful” and constituted “one of many turning points” in his come-from-behind effort to finish as one of the top two candidates in November’s jungle election. But how influential the players were in promoting his campaign was something of a mystery â€” until now.
Warnock’s campaign saw a substantial boost in donations thanks to exposure from the WNBA players’ endorsement, according to an analysis conducted by The Washington Post’s Angele Delevoye. A Yale University Ph.D. candidate in political science and quantitative methods, Delevoye determined that after the June 29 publication of a Yahoo! sports article titled “Why is Kelly Loeffler still a WNBA co-owner despite ‘Donald Sterling vibes’?” motivated players to speak out against the Dream owner, the Warnock campaign enjoyed a 10% jump in daily donations compared to its previous daily averages.
Similarly, she found that “Warnock’s campaign brought in 20 per cent more than what the campaign had been getting in previous days” â€” equivalent to a $US40,000 increase â€” in the 48 hours following the WNBA players’ “Vote Warnock” T-shirt endorsement from the Wubble. And though there’s no definitive way to determine causation between the players’ contributions to the campaign and Warnock’s summer polling surge, the timing of his meteoric rise suggests that the players helped moved the needle.
Despite the WNBA season wrapping up in October and most players taking their talents overseas for the winter, WNBA stars have stuck with Warnock through the runoff election on January 5. WNBPA Secretary and Dream centre Elizabeth Williams sent a video in support of the reverend’s campaign from Turkey, commending Warnock’s commitment to “fight for the health and well-being of all Georgians, including myself.” Reigning WNBA Finals MVP and two-time league champion Breanna Stewart checked in from Russia to call on Georgians to vote for the candidate who “believes in criminal justice reform, environmental justice, voting rights, and Medicaid expansion” in order to “continue to make your state better.”
Heading into the election, polls showed a razor-thin margin between Warnock and Loeffler.
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