Sen. Kelly Loeffler, WNBA Clash Over Black Lives Matter Movement
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A U.S. senator up for reelection this year stands at the crossroads of politics, business and race. Republican Kelly Loeffler joins the president today as he visits Georgia. She is in a tough campaign and under pressure in her business. She co-owns Atlanta's women's pro basketball team, and she's been criticized for pressing the league to drop its support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Here's Emma Hurt of our member station WABE.
TIM ECHOLS: With no further ado, welcome with me our senator, Kelly Loeffler.
EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler is with a few dozen people in downtown Winder, Ga., in the midst of a statewide tour. She's had only months to introduce herself to voters after being appointed in December, and a letter she wrote to the WNBA last week has made an impression.
KELLY LOEFFLER: Let me say a few words about some news that I've been in recently. Look; we have a situation our country. There is no room for racism in this country. We cannot have it. But there's an organization different from the saying, an organization called Black Lives Matter founded on Marxist principles. Marxism supports socialism.
HURT: Loeffler objected to the WNBA and its union's decision to put Black Lives Matter slogans on warm-up gear and jerseys. The WNBA commissioner rejected the appeal. The players' union has demanded Loeffler be removed as an owner of the Atlanta Dream.
LOEFFLER: I think it's a really uninformed, political, reactive statement that just divides our country. And in a league that has always sought tolerance, it's pretty shocking.
HURT: Loeffler says she's standing up for people who feel attacked for voicing conservative beliefs. Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who has endorsed Loeffler and introduced her at the Winder event, says this is resonating.
ECHOLS: I think a lot of Republicans are very sympathetic to the attack that's being placed on her right now, and I think this has helped her. Kelly has had the courage to be able to stand up, and I think Republicans are giving her some credit for that.
HURT: While Loeffler argued that her stand was about removing politics from sports, it's difficult to ignore the context in which it's happening. Loeffler's ownership stake in the team has become a campaign liability. Brian Robinson is a Republican strategist and communications consultant.
BRIAN ROBINSON: It's really the only option that the Loeffler campaign had. Doug Collins had attacked Loeffler over the WNBA and the Dream's partnership with Planned Parenthood.
HURT: Collins is running ads about it. Here's one calling out Loeffler for honoring former Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams at a game.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Here's a story of a woman named Kelly, who invited Stacey Abrams to her game. Then they stood at center court together, trying to grow Stacey's fame.
HURT: Robinson says Loeffler also has to go on the offense to win over Georgia's Republican base because while she is in a free-for-all special election, she's basically competing for the Republican spot in a likely runoff election in January.
ROBINSON: Let's be serious. This is not a general. This is really a primary by a different name.
HURT: Meanwhile, the entire Atlanta Dream roster has split with Loeffler over supporting Black Lives Matter. Elizabeth Williams has played on the Dream since 2016.
ELIZABETH WILLIAMS: It's clear that she's trying to use the idea of Black Lives Matter and, like, politicizing it for her gain. And, like, that's on her if that's what she wants to do. But I think, again, at the end of the day, the movement and what we as players stand for is a movement of unity, is a movement of justice.
HURT: She says it was disappointing to read Loeffler's statements, especially because the league is made up of about 80% Black women.
WILLIAMS: I think it's, like, ironic for her to make these statements and for her to still want to be associated with the team.
HURT: Loeffler has said she won't back away from her ownership stake, despite the blowback.
For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Atlanta.
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