Former WNBA owner Kelly Loeffler says Caitlin Clark could save league from 'errors of its way'

EXCLUSIVE– A former WNBA owner who knows about controversy off the court said star Caitlin Clark could be a transcendent figure that brings the league away from divisive cultural debates and back to hoops.

Former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who co-owned the Atlanta Dream from 2011 to 2021, told Fox News Digital the rookie sensation has been widely celebrated because "she's 100% basketball."

"She's not about politics," Loeffler said. "That's what people want when they purchase tickets, when they spend their family's hard-earned money and time to go to a game. They want to see pure athletic competition, the best of the best. And I think Caitlin is the best chance to get back to that."

Loeffler may be the best-known owner of a WNBA squad after her Dream players revolted against her Republican politics in 2020. After she was appointed to an open Georgia Senate seat in 2019, she spoke out against the WNBA's embrace of Black Lives Matter during her run in a special election the following year. In return, her players sported t-shirts supporting her Democratic opponent Raphael Warnock, creating a media frenzy.

Loeffler
Then-Atlanta owner Kelly Loeffler (right) talks with Dream General Manager Chris Sienko (left) during the WNBA game between the Las Vegas Aces and the Atlanta Dream on Sept. 5, 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, GA.

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The Dream's public spurning of its owner followed years of the league being better known for espousing progressive causes than any on-court achievements, all the while hemorrhaging money and enduring scorn for low player salaries and attendance.

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But now Clark, a player from the heartland who led the University of Iowa to consecutive national championship appearances and became the all-time leading scorer in Division I history, has brought unprecedented attention and ratings for the league. And Loeffler couldn't be happier for Clark and what she means to the league she loves.

"Caitlin Clark is the best thing to happen to the WNBA in its history," Loeffler told Fox News Digital. "And she has brought so much attention, so many benefits to the league. The players for years have wanted to fly chartered private flights. They now have that thanks to Caitlin Clark. They now have arenas that are selling out, or at least selling thousands of tickets. They now have attention on a world stage that they never had thanks to Caitlin Clark."

"And I think there's a real opportunity for the league to kind of bounce back from some of the errors of its way, you know, starting in 2020, when they stopped being about basketball and being more focused on pushing partisan politics and really alienated a lot of people. And I think this is a great chance to say, hey, we are about basketball, we're about the quality of the game. We're about elevating players from all walks of life."

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Caitlin Clark takes questions at press conference
Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever talks to the media during an introductory press conference on April 17, 2024, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Loeffler played basketball growing up in rural Illinois and still loves the game, recalling the thrill of watching the Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan in the 1990s. A wealthy business executive before entering politics, she bought her stake in the Dream with the goal of giving back to the community and enjoyed Xs-and-Os strategizing as much as building a strong culture around the squad. The team advanced to the WNBA Finals twice under her leadership.

After Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons in 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler, a prolific GOP donor, to his spot. As she tied herself to former President Trump, she alienated the team and the league, and she spoke out strongly against the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I was alarmed when the WNBA unilaterally announced that rather than partnering with the owners, those of us that have invested millions and millions of dollars into the league, that they were going to partner with BLM Inc," Loeffler told Fox News Digital. "It only took a quick visit to the website to understand that BLM was founded by self-proclaimed Marxists."

She ultimately sold her stake in the Dream in 2021 after her defeat in the Senate runoff election against Warnock.

While remaining active in GOP politics, Loeffler also has continued to closely watch the WNBA and spoken out in support of Clark as she's received a rough welcome to the league. She recently posted on X she'd never seen a player treated like Clark.

Drafted first overall by the Indiana Fever earlier this year, Clark made history before stepping on the court last month with her huge sponsorship deals, including a reported $28-million agreement with Nike. She's helped set attendance and viewership records for the struggling league and generated headlines for everything from strange reporter questions to being snubbed by the U.S. Olympic team.

But what's really driven cultural conversation has been how she's been treated by other players. Clark scored 23 points in a victory over the Chicago Sky on Sunday, but the game drew more attention for a flagrant foul on her by former college rival Angel Reese, who delivered a blow to Clark's head as she drove for a basket.

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It was the latest bit of physical force against Clark, with critics saying jealousy and even race issues are driving animus toward her. In another game earlier this month, Sky player Chennedy Carter purposely knocked Clark to the ground, even though she wasn't holding the ball.

WNBA
Elizabeth Williams, #1 of the Atlanta Dream, wears a Vote Warnock T-shirt before a game against the Phoenix Mercury on August 4, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.

The tensions on the court have generated plenty of hot takes off it, but Clark has stayed out of the political fray and avoided statements that could inflame things further. While the Reese foul on her Sunday was the talk of social media, Clark said afterward it was a typical play.

"She was trying to make a play on the ball and get the block," Clark said. "It happens."

Clark's effect on wider culture has been undeniable, with everyone from ESPN to "The View" spouting off about her rise. One ESPN panelist fretted last week she would be used as an "avatar" to attack the league's Black players, and some liberal media personalities have said her fame is due to being White and straight.

Asked about her name being tossed around in the culture wars, Clark said last week she had no control over it and would block out the noise.

"Basketball's my job. Everything on the outside, I can't control that, so I'm not going to spend time thinking about that. People can talk about what they want to talk about, create conversations about whatever it is, but I think for myself, I'm just here to play basketball," she said.

Loeffler praised Clark for how she's handled herself under intense media scrutiny and a bevy of commentators from both sides of the aisle who've tried to make the athlete a political lightning rod.

"She's handled it with strength and grace and sportsmanship, and I think we need more of that in the WNBA," Loeffler said. "I would just keep doing what she's doing. She doesn't need advice from me. She's a professional. She's doing everything right. She's working. She's going to definitely outwork everyone."

Fox News' Nikolas Lanum and Ryan Morik contributed to this report.


Original article source: Former WNBA owner Kelly Loeffler says Caitlin Clark could save league from 'errors of its way'

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