Getting paid to play professional sports is the quintessential embodiment of the American Dream. But the Atlanta Dream players demonstrated they were willing to sacrifice it all when they defied the conservative calls to just “shut up and dribble,” as power-forward Monique Billings said.
And because of that singular stance, they became the catalysts to get Rev. Raphael Warnock elected as the first-ever Black Senator from the state of Georgia.
The Atlanta Dream was subsequently awarded the ESPN Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year Award for exemplifying valor during that tumultuous year.
Receiving the award in New York was very gratifying to the players.
“Oh, yeah, it was great. It’s really an honor,” team captain Elizabeth Williams said.
Williams said that the team did not become activists for awards, “but it was just cool to be recognized and bring a spotlight to what the players did. So it was just a really great feeling.”
The award proved that sports and politics are intertwined in America. The Dream not only supported the Black Lives Matter movement but defied their former boss, ex-Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who publicly lambasted the Black Lives Matter movement.
The players believed Loeffler was using them as political footballs to ingratiate herself with her right-wing base during the hotly contested election last summer.
With Loeffler out of office, supporters and players convinced Loeffler to sell the team to a new ownership group.
“You are so deserving because you have been so impressive – on the court and off the court,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) said during an awards presentation at a recent Dream game. “From your tireless commitment to fighting for justice to working to protect the right of vote, so people can make their voices heard in our democracy. The Atlanta Dream is living up to its name as the hometown team of the Dreamer.”
The Atlanta Dream was given a $100,000 grant for the humanity award from ESPN. They chose to donate the money to the New Georgia Project, a non-partisan effort to register and civically engage Georgians, advocate for civil and human rights, and advance justice on behalf of historically marginalized communities.
Billings hopes the award and recognition have resonated with the next generation of impressionable girls.
“I’m really just honored to be with my teammates, my sisters, and I have a lot of gratitude that the work that we’re doing on and off the court is being acknowledged,” Billings said. “And that we’re just doing something positive, inspiring people, you know, for young girls who are looking up at us. I hope that we can inspire them to raise their voice and use the power that they have. And yeah, just keep shining. So it was just truly honored to be up there with my teammates.”
Another great gift that eventually came out of the political turbulence of 2020: former Dream player and WNBA champion Renee Montgomery was able to retire and immediately become a part-owner of the team she had just played for.
For Williams, seeing the positives that emerged from the social wreckage from a year ago makes their stance all the more worth it.
“It is about not being afraid to speak up and how important that is and trusting the people around you,” Williams said. “I think that was the biggest thing for me because I usually don’t speak up a lot, but I felt like in those moments, it was important for me to do that.”
Billings concurred with her teammate’s sentiments.
“I’m just gonna stand for what I believe in,” she said. “Because if you stand for what you believe in, you’re not going to fall for just anything. I’m big on that.”