<
>

Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler: WNBA support for Black Lives Matter could make some fans 'feel excluded'

play
Why the 2020 WNBA season is about way more than basketball (3:16)

Chiney Ogwumike explains why the WNBA has dedicated the 2020 season to social justice and is allowing on-court displays of solidarity. (3:16)

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who co-owns the Atlanta Dream franchise, said she fears that the WNBA's public support for the Black Lives Matter movement could drive some fans away.

"I think a lot of people feel that they may not have a place," Loeffler said Tuesday in an interview with ESPN. "They may feel excluded from this sport and other sports that make them feel like American values aren't at the core of what we're doing here."

Earlier this month, Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert objecting to the league's promotion of Black Lives Matter -- which will be painted on the courts at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where the league will hold its season -- and instead advocating for teams to add American flags to jerseys.

"The statement, 'Black lives matter,' is very different than the organization Black Lives Matter," Loeffler said. "I think we all agree the life of every African American is important. There's no room for racism in this country, and we have to root it out where it exists. But there's a political organization called Black Lives Matter that I think is very important to make the distinction between their aim and where we are as a country at this moment.

"The Black Lives Matter political organization advocates things like defunding and abolishing the police, abolishing our military, emptying our prisons, destroying the nuclear family. It promotes violence and antisemitism. To me, this is not what our league stands for."

Loeffler's statements have been widely decried by WNBA players, who have called on the league to force her out as co-owner of the Dream. Engelbert said last week that the league would not force Loeffler to sell, but she is aware of several parties with interest in buying the team.

"They can't push me out for my views," Loeffler told ESPN. "I intend to own the team. I am not going."

When asked if she is aware of the parties interested in buying the team that Engelbert mentioned, Loeffler said: "I'm going to remain part of the team. I have long welcomed additional partners as part of making sure that we continue to grow the team, but I will continue to remain part of the team."

Loeffler said her involvement in the day-to-day operations of the Dream is "minimal," but she still funds the team and intends to support and watch the team this season, despite the criticism she has faced from players and the league's promotion of Black Lives Matter.

"I've always been supportive of my team, though I know we may have different views," Loeffler said. "But the best way that we can have a common understanding is by working together on it, not shutting someone out."

Dream star Renee Montgomery, who is sitting out this season to focus on social justice initiatives, is among the players who have been critical of Loeffler's stance. On July 7, Montgomery tweeted that she "would love to have a conversation with [Loeffler] about the matter."

Loeffler said she was unaware of Montgomery's offer but "would welcome a conversation. That's always been my approach is one that, where we have a dialogue, not where we call for someone to be canceled or fired or pushed out or kicked out."

Las Vegas Aces player Angel McCoughtry, who spent her first 10 seasons in the WNBA with Atlanta, said in a video call with reporters on Saturday that she thinks Loeffler is using the league for political posturing.

"As far as Kelly is concerned, I think that right now, she has not reflected what the Dream logo stands for," McCoughtry said. "If she really did have [problems] with LGBTQ or Black Lives Matter, I don't think she would have had us players in her home. Why do you own a WNBA team? I think she has to play the political game to look good in front of her peers. OK, do that. If you want to play the political game, do that, but don't include us in it."

Loeffler is a candidate in a special election in Georgia on Nov. 3.

She said she is disappointed by anyone who would characterize her motives for speaking out as political.

"I think that women athletes can be some of the first to understand what it means to speak out and to have that tolerance," Loeffler said. "It's been pretty shocking to see that reaction."

espnW's Katie Barnes contributed to this story.