By any measure, it should be the biggest story in sports: A franchise owner runs a racist Senate campaign, throwing her own Black players under the bus in the process. Meanwhile, one of those players takes the year off from playing ball to dedicate herself to social justice concerns. That player asks to meet with the aforementioned franchise owner to discuss those concerns and is denied. The franchise owner refuses to meet and respectfully engage with someone who disagrees with her for political reasons. After the franchise owner faceplants their election campaign, ending in ignominious defeat, the players, the union, fans, and eventually even the league pressures her to sell the club.
That in and of itself would be a hell of a story. But this one goes to the next level: The aforementioned player joins an ownership group and buys the team. It’s positively cinematic. But this story isn’t getting the media attention it should be. That’s because it took place in the WNBA. Sexism is a hell of a drug, and it’s a damn shame because this is a story for the ages.
The now-former franchise owner is of course Trumpist lickspittle Kelly Loeffler, who lost her bid for Georgia’s Senate seat to the Rev. Raphael Warnock. The team is the Atlanta Dream. The player is two-time WNBA champ Renee Montgomery. And this is truly news to celebrate.
I reached out to Montgomery and this is what she said: “I am excited to be able to continue my basketball career as the first former WNBA player to become a team owner and member of the leadership team for the Dream. My moments in Atlanta are continuing to build momentum in the community and I look forward to developing relationships that are mutually beneficial to both Atlanta and the Dream.”
It is not known how much of a stake Montgomery is going to have in the team; the majority owner is a real estate investor named Larry Gottesdiener from Newton, Mass. But the decision-making will fall to Montgomery—officially the team’s VP—and Suzanne Abair, a real estate exec who works with Gottesdiener.
Montgomery says her inspiration to try to be a part of purchasing the team came from LeBron James himself, who tweeted that he might be interested in being part of a group to wrest the team from Loeffler. That, and LeBron’s “more than a vote” campaign, pushed Montgomery in this direction. After the purchase, James tweeted congratulations, writing, “So proud of this Queen. This is everything we are about! #Morethananathlete.” But this moment is not about LeBron. It’s about Renee Montgomery, and the slogan that guides her work: “Moments equal momentum.”
The purchase of the Dream fulfills the desire across the WNBA community to get Loeffler away from the league. Loeffler ran her campaign using not so much a racist dog whistle as a racist foghorn, and the focus of her ire was the Black Lives Matter movement in general, and her own players in particular. Using them as racist scapegoats for “rioters” in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, was more than the WNBA-world could stand. They supported Warnock when he had 9 percent in the polls and now they look like prophets. Since her epic failure, Loeffler’s sale of the team was a foregone conclusion.
The move by Montgomery creates a hell of a line in the sand across the sports spectrum. Once again, the WNBA is ahead of the game politically. It was when it embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, and it is again in forcing out a bigoted franchise owner and replacing her with a player’s voice. Donald Sterling was forced to sell his stake of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 after racist recordings surfaced, but he was bought out by tech billionaire Steve Ballmer. Given the repellence of Sterling, that wasn’t exactly “old boss, same as the new boss,” but it didn’t solve a fundamental problem across the sports world: the near-total absence of Black franchise ownership—let alone Black women in positions of ownership. Now, franchise owners know that their long-standing practice of taking public funds while bankrolling this country’s right-wing political apparatus will be under scrutiny, and when they cross the line—as Loeffler gleefully did—from paying for racist dog whistles to taking up the practice themselves, players will not be silent.
Renee Montgomery’s having a minority stake is a step in the right direction. Of course, she is now moving to the other side of the desk. Given Montgomery’s roots as not only a player but also an activist, people are going to keep a close eye on what she does from her newfound perch.