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Of the WNBA and its contribution to democracy

Here in Connecticut, we know our women's basketball. We are the home office for the game's revolution and now evolution. We've lived it, deeper and more intimately, through UConn and the WNBA, than everybody else.

So maybe that's why we ought to be louder and prouder at this very moment than we've ever been. Amid all women's basketball's estimable hosannas — filling arenas and occupying front pages and prime time television slots — none of it compares to its recent contribution to democracy.

Straight up: Without the WNBA's assistance, the Democrats would not have control of the Senate. WNBA players supported Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was elected the first Black senator from Georgia earlier this week, defeating Republican Kelly Loeffler, who, quite ironically, owns the Atlanta Dream, a WNBA team.

How did this happen? Six months of player activism, stemming from Loeffler's refusal to support the Black Lives Matter movement, despite owning a team in a league primarily composed of Black women.

Loeffler sent a tone-deaf letter to the WNBA renouncing BLM. In the words of the Washington Post, "parroting President Trump's rhetoric as she fought to keep her seat."

At the time, Warnock was polling at nine percent, the equivalent of being down 30 at halftime. Players from the Dream and across the league soon embraced Warnock, wearing T-shirts bearing his name. The Post reported that in the three days that followed the players' initial surge, Warnock's campaign raised more than $236,000 and added nearly 4,000 followers on Twitter.

Later that week, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, politics, economics, and sports blogging, reported that Warnock had surpassed Loeffler in the polls.

Warnock won earlier this week.

"It's a special moment for us because we're constantly at the forefront of every issue, but we don't get the respect we deserve," Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, who opted out of this past season to focus on social justice causes, told the Post. "Whether it's on the court or off the court in our influence. You have a moment like this where you can't say we didn't help determine the outcome."

Dream player and former UConn guard Tiffany Hayes even co-organized a voter registration event in Atlanta. Remember: Loeffler, the Dream owner, signs Hayes' checks.

"Some might call her our boss, in a sense, and for you to go against your boss, it can go wrong in a lot of ways," Hayes told the Post. "I definitely commend all the girls, all of us, for stepping up and standing up, even though there could have been consequences."

Former UConn great Sue Bird picked up the cause from across the country playing for the Seattle Storm. The T-shirts were Bird's idea.

"I'm not a political strategist. Who am I? Who are any of us in the WNBA to get into any kind of verbal spat about politics with (Loeffler)? Why would we do that?" Bird told the Post. "We kind of took that part out of it and redirected all of our energy and support into Reverend Warnock, and it got us back in line with what we got into that bubble season for anyway — to talk about Black Lives Matter, to talk about 'Say Her Name,' to encourage people to vote."

Even if you do not agree with their political bent, how do you not admire their chutzpah? Imagine believing in something so deeply that you — as Cloud, Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery did — take a year off from work to focus on that passion. Imagine summoning the courage to exercise civil disobedience in the potential sight line of your employer.

Imagine, too, the philosophical chasm between that kind of courage and the less erudite "shut up and dribble" drivel coming from the other side.

And somewhere, Helen Reddy smiles. Turns out she's right after all. They are strong. They are invincible. They are women. In the face of fracture, they offered some inspiration for all of us. They gathered. They united. They spoke.

Hear them roar.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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