Prove your humanity


After leading the WNBA social justice initiatives, Renee Montgomery has gone from the court to the box seats — buying the Atlanta Dream from former Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler.

Former Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery’s bio is stacked: 2009 National Champion with the University of Connecticut, 2015 and 2016 WNBA Championship with the Minnesota Lynx,  2014 Sixth Woman of the Year, 2014 WNBA All-Star, and current studio analyst for Atlanta Hawks broadcasts. But now, those illustrious feats are on the back burner because of her newest job — a team co-owner and vice president for the Dream has taken the spotlight.

The 34-year-old retired WNBA player is now the first player to become both a team owner and executive after Montgomery’s purchase of the Atlanta Dream. 

Montgomery decided to sit out the 2020 WNBA season in order to focus on social justice issues because of the officer-related death of George Floyd that compelled her to act. She was questioned by fans and media members alike on what she expects her impact to be without playing and whether or not she would’ve made her decision if she were male– ESPN’s Stephen A Smith questioning if her decision would’ve wavered if she were an NBA player.

Despite the questions, Montgomery knew her voice mattered, and the tragedy called for her voice to be used. But little did she know that this tragedy would also serve as a catalyst for a series of events that would eventually position her to make history. 

In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, the WNBA went to work. The league launched a Social Justice Council, players wore warmups with phrases like “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” and similar messaging was emblazoned on the court itself — an idea conceived by the WNBA and then used by the NBA. 

But not everyone within the league was on board with being at the forefront of this social justice movement. Former Georgia Senator and then-Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler was vocal in her opposition on everything Black Lives Matter stands for.

“The truth is, we need less — not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote, and now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports,” Loeffler 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.”

This created a divide between the league and one of its owners. When the WNBA players’ union called for Loeffler to sell her shares went unanswered, the players took a different route. Inspired by Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird, they coordinated a plan to wear “Vote Warnock” T-shirts to games to support  Loeffler’s Democratic challenger rather than broadcast criticism of the sitting senator. The campaign has since been credited as a key factor in elevating Warnock’s profile. Following her defeat, Loeffler decided it was best to sell the team.

 

And now, in a full-circle moment, Montgomery — the same player whom Loeffler once refused to meet in order to address her racist rhetoric — is part of a three-member investment group that’s been approved to purchase the Dream. Montgomery explained that the seed of this idea began to bloom back in January when Lakers forward LeBron James tweeted his interest in acquiring the Dream. Montgomery told TMZ that after she saw James tweeting about the team, she connected with him and then connected with WNBA Commissioner Kathy Engelberg. To get the ball rolling, she reached out to her two fellow buyers, Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair. 

 

Montgomery’s regime has already pledged to keep the Dream in Atlanta. Montgomery made it clear how the values of her predecessor went against who she and her team will always be.

“The first order of business is to make the Atlanta Dream a part of the Atlanta community,” Montgomery said in an interview with TMZ. “As a player, I didn’t feel like the community was embracing us. I think that the community just doesn’t know us well enough. So the first order of business is just trying to get ingrained in that.”

What Montgomery would not do in her first press conference, was revisit that political fight or even take an extended victory lap against the former senator. Granted, Montgomery didn’t need to. Her new position did it for her. 

Aside from the obvious WNBA history that this purchase creates, this transaction is a stepping stone to opening the eyes of other professional franchises, not just in women’s sports, to understand the power of diversity at the top. 

“I think it’s great that Renee has stepped up after she retired from playing the game to continue having an impact on the game,’’ Engelbert told reporters. “I’ve seen her strong work ethic. I’ve seen her advocacy and knowledge of the game, and I’m sure that’s going to be an asset to Larry and Suzanne and a huge benefit to the team.’’

The two-time WNBA champ is treading uncharted waters and forging new ground for women — Black or otherwise —in sports. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the days of telling Atlanta Dream players to “shut up and dribble” are over.