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Layshia Clarendon: ‘Kelly Loeffler is the anti-movement’

The WNBA star responds to the Atlanta Dream co-owner’s criticism of Black Lives Matter

New York Liberty point guard Layshia Clarendon has had enough.

On Tuesday, Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler made headlines after writing a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert questioning the league’s decision to support the Black Lives Matter movement during its 2020 WNBA season.

Loeffler, who is a U.S. senator from Georgia, wrote: “I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.”

Clarendon is first vice president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, a member of the recently formed WNBA Social Justice Council and played for the Dream from 2016 to 2018.

In her own words, Clarendon responds to Loeffler’s comments.

The WNBA is the movement.

We are the women who have been doing the work long before it was socially acceptable or cool. We are the trans, the non-binary, the gender non-conforming, the cis women, the gay women, all across the spectrum of what women can be – in a predominantly black league.

We’re starting to see black women like Rachel Cargle, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, and Raquel Willis get the recognition and the following that they deserve. Similar to us, they’ve been doing this work.

As we attempt to move forward amidst a global pandemic, the discourse around the return of sports has taken center stage.

I’m here to say, we are the leaders to follow.

If you’re chanting Black Lives Matter or Say Her Name and not supporting the WNBA, then you’re missing the mark. We are the movement. We are those women. We’ve been standing up for years, before we saw murals of black women emblazoned across the country, we were here. We know this historical trend well, black women show up, do the work and get glossed over or completely erased.

Now eyes have turned on us in a moment of turmoil, our Donald Sterling moment.

Kelly Loeffler is the anti-movement.

She represents what happens when people choose the identity of whiteness over everything else.

She was OK with owning our team. She was OK with having players who spoke out, like I have, but she is not OK with us gaining this momentum and power.

Kelly knows that in this moment, distancing herself from the WNBA and BLM only strengthens her political power. She knows what base she’s appealing to. The same base that 45 has empowered to be openly hateful and divisive, all in the name of free speech.

The saying, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, couldn’t be more poignant.

This is why people don’t just hand over their power. It has to be taken. At a time when black people and political organizations have a collective voice and momentum, it’s no wonder people are terrified of voting becoming a fair fight, that sports leagues would start saying Black Lives Matter instead of shutting up and being entertainment, that we could defund the police and start pouring resources into helping communities instead of criminalizing them.

How terrifying that must be for someone who does not want to give up the power they hold over marginalized people.

Part of why we wanted to come back and play was to unite people, was to inspire, to continue to raise awareness and create social change through playing like we have always done. That’s always been a motivation of mine for playing basketball. Loving the game but also loving the platform that playing the game gives me. For me, there hasn’t been one without the other.

For Kelly to call our unity divisive is an old tactic. It’s also rooted in a deeply hypocritical and shallow assessment of what sports have been in American politics since their inception. Swapping the flag for Breonna Taylor’s name doesn’t remove politics, it inflames it. Here we are again, talking about the flag, instead of the victims of police brutality, harassment, mass incarceration, wrongful conviction, gun violence, and so much more.

I have shared meals with Kelly, stepped foot in her home. I have introduced her to my wife and played my heart out for the team she owns with her cheering on the sidelines. I stood with pride as I watched her honor Stacey Abrams at center court, donate ticket sales to Planned Parenthood and roll out a Pride campaign that made me feel seen.

While her comments surrounding BLM aren’t new, it has been shocking and hurtful to see her turn this league into a moment for her own political gain. These types of people can be harder to identify at first.

It’s the bus drivers, the dentists, the Kelly Loefflers, the mayors, the principal at your kid’s school, the teacher, the basketball coach from your AAU team that has these views and are able to be chameleons. They smile to your face, but go in the voting booths and cast a ballot against your interests in every category.

Kelly Loeffler has been able to openly express her views without repercussions as long as she has because, one, we are a league full of black women, so we fall under the radar. LeBron James sneezes and people pay attention. Maya Moore walks away from basketball to get a man out of prison and it’s a flash in the pan. Our lack of visibility and investment from national media leaves us to fight for ourselves.

The other factor is that Donald Trump has normalized hateful speech. You’ve seen it from mayors to senators to business owners, everything from making fun of Asian people to disabled people to black people to undocumented folks. He’s normalized hate in this country and called it freedom.

The WNBA’s statement was a good statement, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough to say she’s just not a part of the Board of Governors, because she is still a “Governor-owner,” she still co-governs the team. The players have spoken – she does not align with our league.

You come for one of us, you come for all of us.

Liner Notes

The Undefeated asked Loeffler for comment and a spokesperson for the senator provided this statement:

“Senator Loeffler believes the life of each and every African American matters, period. She disagrees with the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter political organization that advocates for violence, defunding the police, the break down of the nuclear family and anti-Semitism while cloaking itself in the name of justice.

“Sports are a unifying force in our world: they celebrate diversity by bringing together people of all walks of life, religious beliefs and political views. It’s unfortunate the league and many others are choosing politics, division and cancel culture instead of unity.”

Sean Hurd is a writer for Andscape who primarily covers women’s basketball. His athletic peak came at the age of 10 when he was named camper of the week at a Josh Childress basketball camp.