Atlanta Dream’s Elizabeth Williams on finding her voice ahead of Georgia’s Senate runoff

WNBA player Elizabeth Williams of the Atlanta Dream discusses finding her voice and her decision to endorse Rev. Warnock in the U.S. Senate race
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By Elizabeth Williams, as told to Alex Azzi

Editor’s Note: WNBA player Elizabeth Williams is the longest standing member of the Atlanta Dream. Ahead of Georgia’s upcoming Senate runoff, Williams wrote about finding her voice during the 2020 WNBA season and why she decided to endorse Reverend Raphael Warnock, who is running against Kelly Loeffler, the co-owner of her WNBA team.

In June, I went to my first ever protest. I live in Atlanta and a whole group of us gathered at Centennial Olympic Park. It was incredible. It wasn’t only black people or white allies who were there. There was this sentiment that ‘we’ve had enough.’ Everyone felt it.

It was a peaceful, nonviolent protest. At most there was yelling and chanting. Of course, some people tried to change the narrative. But it was peaceful. Intimidating? Yes, but peaceful. It was a really unique experience for me, and one that stuck with me as I contemplated how to approach the 2020 WNBA season, which was scheduled to start in July.

I’m on the Executive Committee of the WNBPA (our union) and a member of the Atlanta Dream. As we were negotiating what the WNBA bubble (eventually nicknamed “the Wubble”) was going to look like, we were adamant that social justice was going to be at the forefront. Given that we had the opportunity to play, we wanted to use our voices and fight for the issues that are important to players in the league.

Ultimately, we decided to dedicate the season to social justice initiatives, which included highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement and the #SayHerName campaign.

You might already know what happened next. The co-owner of my team – who is also a U.S. Senator – wrote a letter denouncing the WNBA’s support for Black Lives Matter. For an owner of a team, in a league that is nearly 80 percent Black, to denounce a movement that affects the lives and families of the majority of its athletes, it felt disheartening and frustrating to say the least.

Now at this point, I’m the longest standing member of the Atlanta Dream. I got drafted into the WNBA in 2015, but I was traded to Atlanta in 2016 and I’ve been with the Dream ever since. So… I’ve known our co-owner for a few years. We would have our end-of-year dinners at her house, which is not even a house. It’s a mansion.

When our co-owner made her statement, different players in the league commented, saying things like, ‘This is unacceptable, she shouldn’t be an owner.’ And then our union, and the league itself, also made statements… But our team was struggling with what to do, what to say… Because at the end of the day, she does cut our checks, regardless of how little or how much involvement she has as an owner.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not super outgoing. I’ve always been someone who enjoys learning and being a sponge, but I’m not the person you would expect to be out there on the front lines of all of this.

But as things developed, I found myself asking, ‘How can I effectively make sure that we’re getting our points across?’

Within the WNBPA Executive Committee, we have a group chat via WhatsApp. I remember Sue Bird wrote something like, ‘Alright, this owner is in a senate seat that nobody actually voted for. What about looking at who else is running for the seat come the election?’

And that’s how we learned about Reverend Raphael Warnock.

We’re not politicians, we didn’t really know how the political system worked, but we wanted to see what Reverend Warnock was about.

And so, we used the political connections we already had. Between Lisa Borders, the former Commissioner of the WNBA, and Stacey Abrams, who is on our union’s Board of Advocates, we had little pieces to help put a plan in motion.

We set up a Zoom call with Reverend Warnock and his team. He explained all the work that he had done, his role as an activist, his support for women’s rights, reproductive health, universal health care – all of these issues that are important to our social justice movement.

Atlanta Dream's Elizabeth Williams and teammates wearing Vote Warnock T-shirts

After talking with Reverend Warnock, the discussion became, ‘Okay, we like this guy, so how do we express our support for him?’ We decided on T-shirts, because that was our whole M.O. in the Wubble. When we would walk off the bus and into the arena, the media would take pictures of us. It became a way to make statements about things that mattered to us.

So on August 4, the day of the Dream’s first nationally televised game of the season, we walked off the bus wearing “Vote Warnock” T-shirts. Every other team followed suit.

The WNBA has always been bigger than just us players. We’re a relatively small league – just 12 teams and 144 players – but we’re the longest standing women’s professional league in the country. We know that there are little kids who look up to us and that we are in this really unique position.

I think that, as female athletes, as majority Black athletes, we’re inherently political. Some people don’t like seeing women in sports or women in positions of power. We are this unique cohort of people that represent things that are universally not in the majority. We can’t control how we’re viewed, so at the end of the day, our authenticity drives us.

We’re also very different from the NBA in that we’re not on TV all the time. So, when we have the chance to have games on TV, on ESPN or on ABC, it’s hard to just say, ‘Alright, we’re not going to play.’ But after Jacob Blake was shot, that was a question we asked ourselves. That moment felt different.

On Wednesday, August 26, we were scheduled to play the Washington Mystics at 7pm on ESPN. When we got to the arena, we had a conversation on the court with the Mystics players. Then the teams for the 8pm game arrived. We had four teams just talking to each other out on the floor, something that could only happen in the year 2020 in the Wubble. We were asking each other, ‘If we decide not to play today, how do we do something with it?’ I remember Nneka Ogwumike, our union President, helping lead the conversation and making sure different perspectives were heard.

Regardless if games were played or not, we knew we needed to make a statement, something to share with the media on behalf of the players. Between conversations on the court, I was also on the phone with Terri Jackson, the executive director of our union. We worked together to draft a statement.

When we decided we weren’t going to play that night, or the following day, I looked at the statement on my phone and revised it to reflect the conversations I had with other players.

If you had told me three months earlier that I would be the person to read a statement like this, I never would have believed you. But in that moment, it was a no-brainer that I was the one sharing our message with the world. I took a deep breath, looked straight into the camera, and began reading.

By not playing, we didn’t just not play. We used the next day to reflect and to strategize. We made sure people registered to vote and had a plan to vote by mail or in-person. It was one of those moments when you stop and realize ‘Alright, we’re really doing something.’ There were different opportunities for players to be on major networks like CNN and MSNBC. In the past, you just wouldn’t see athletes – especially Black female athletes – with that type of platform.

Even after the WNBA season ended in October, and players left the Wubble, our social justice work continued.

In November, Reverend Warnock forced our team owner into a January 5th runoff election for her senate seat.

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post published a story that looked at the statistical impact WNBA players had on Warnock’s campaign. It found that after our T-shirt campaign in August, Warnock’s campaign brought in 20 percent more donations than previous days, for a boost of $40,000 in just 48 hours. As WNBA players, we can say we made a big impact on this election with those shirts. But when you actually have the raw data, you can’t deny it. Numbers don’t lie. And that is really motivating for this last push before January’s runoff election.

I’m currently playing overseas in Turkey, and while I can’t be on the ground in Georgia for these final days, I’ve remained involved with Warnock’s campaign by phone banking and posting on social media.

That said, I’m still not a politician. I still don’t claim to be. But I have a better understanding of how the system works. Putting myself out there and becoming more vocal has been a big shift for me. While I’m appreciative that I was put in this position, I’m also glad that I’ve embraced being in it.

I also know that little things – things like signing petitions or wearing a T-shirt or responding to a WhatsApp message – can result in big things, perhaps even flipping the U.S. Senate.

[RELATED READING: Sue Bird on activism in the WNBA: “Who better to speak on these issues?”

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2022 Rivalry Series: USA extends lead to 3-0 over Canada in women’s hockey showcase

Hilary Knight #21 of Team United States reacts after scoring a shorthanded goal in the second period during the Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match.
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Hilary Knight had two goals and one assist to lead the U.S. women’s hockey team to a 4-2 win over Canada on Sunday, extending Team USA’s series lead to 3-0 in the seven-game 2022-23 Rivalry Series.

Savannah Harmon and Abby Roque also scored for the U.S., which has notched three consecutive wins against Canada for the first time since 2019. Goalie Nicole Hensley made 22 saves in front of a record-setting crown at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, where fan attendance totaled 14,551.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse scored for Canada, which captured gold \at both the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September and the Beijing Olympics in February.

Knight has enjoyed a standout 2022-23 Rivalry Series to date, registering six points (three goals, three assists) in the first three games including the game-winning goal in a shootout victory in Game 1 of the series on Tuesday and the game-winning assist in Game 2 on Thursday. Prior to the puck drop in Seattle on Sunday, Knight was presented with a golden stick to commemorate her record-breaking 87th career point in world championship play. Knight became the all-time points leader at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September, when the eight-time world champion recorded one goal and one assist in Team USA’s 12-1 quarterfinal win over Hungary.

Sunday’s matchup between the U.S. and Canada marked the third game of the 2022-23 Rivalry Series and was the third matchup between the two teams in five days. The U.S. came in with a 2-0 series lead following a 2-1 victory on Thursday in Kamloops, B.C., and a 4-3 shootout victory — the first shootout in Rivalry Series history — in Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday. It also was the first game for the U.S. national team on home soil since Dec. 17, 2021, when the team hosted Canada in St. Louis (Canada won 3-2 in overtime).

The 2022-23 Rivalry Series continues next month with two games in the U.S., set to be played in Las Vegas on Dec. 17 and Los Angeles on Dec. 19.

2022-23 Rivalry Series schedule, results

Tuesday, Nov. 15 USA 4, CAN 3 (SO) Kelowna, British Columbia NHL Network
Thursday, Nov. 17 USA 2, CAN 1 Kamloops, British Columbia NHL Network
Sunday, Nov. 20 USA 4, CAN 2 Seattle, Washington NHL Network
Thursday, Dec. 15 10 p.m. ET Henderson, Nevada NHL Network
Monday, Dec. 19 10 p.m. ET Los Angeles, California NHL Network

What is the Rivalry Series?

The Rivalry Series was introduced by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada during the 2018-19 season and designed as an annual showcase of the highest level of women’s hockey at various locations in the United States and Canada. The first series comprised three games between the two national teams, with Canada winning 2-1. Team USA took 2019-20 title, winning the expanded five-game series 4-1 and wrapping with an overtime win in the finale in front of a then-record-breaking total of 13,320 fans in Anaheim, California.

Following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic and preparation for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Rivalry Series resumed this season with seven games over three months: three in November, two in December and two in February.

The U.S. and Canada have battled in the gold-medal game of six of seven Winter Olympics and 20 of 21 IIHF Women’s World Championship, with the two exceptions being the 2019 World Championship and 2006 Olympics. The Canadian women are the reigning Olympic and world champions.

2022-23 Rivalry Series rewind: USA takes Games 1-2

Game 1 recap: USA 4, CAN 3, SO (Nov. 15): The series kicked off Tuesday with Team USA grabbing a 2-0 lead off goals from Hannah Brandt and Hilary Knight. But Canada battled back with three unanswered goals and held a 3-2 lead with 13 minutes to go in the third. With just 1:29 remaining in regulation, Alex Carpenter tied it for the Americans, sending the game to overtime. The U.S. ultimately won in a shootout, with Knight and Carpenter scoring while U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley made two key saves.

Game 2 recap: USA 2, CAN 1 (Nov. 17): Canada was first to get on the board Thursday when Marie-Philip Poulin capitalized off a penalty shot opportunity in the second period, but USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield knotted the score just 1:12 later. Alex Carpenter scored the go-ahead tally with 6:36 remaining in the third to give the U.S. a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead. U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney recorded 19 saves in net.

Who’s playing in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series?

Team USA’s roster — led by coach John Wroblewski — for the November Rivalry Series games features 23 players, 16 of whom were part of the silver medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship in August:

  • Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights, Minn.)
  • Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.)
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.)
  • Jincy Dunne (O’Fallon, Mo.)
  • Aerin Frankel(Chappaqua, N.Y.)
  • Rory Guilday (Minnetonka, Minn.)
  • Savannah Harmon (Downers Grove, Ill.)
  • Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo.)
  • Megan Keller (Farmington Hills, Mich.)
  • Amanda Kessel (Madison, Wis.)
  • Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho)
  • Kelly Pannek (Plymouth, Minn.)
  • Abby Roque (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.)
  • Hayley Scamurra (Getzville, N.Y.)
  • Maddie Rooney (Andover, Minn.)
  • Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn.).

Team Canada’s 23-player roster, selected by coach Troy Ryan and director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury, features 16 players who were on the gold medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship and the 2022 Beijing Olympics (Canada beat , including:

  • Erin Ambrose
  • Kristen Campbell
  • Emily Clark
  • Ann-Renée Desbiens
  • Renata Fast
  • Brianne Jenner
  • Jocelyne Larocque
  • Emma Maltais
  • Emerance Maschmeyer
  • Sarah Nurse
  • Marie-Philip Poulin
  • Jamie Lee Rattray
  • Ella Shelton
  • Laura Stacey
  • Blayre Turnbull
  • Micah Zandee-Hart

Rivalry Series history

Following Sunday’s victory, the U.S. holds a 6-2-1-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record over Canada all time in the Rivalry Series. Canada won the 2018-19 Rivalry Series with a 2-0-0-1 record, while the U.S. won the 2019-20 Rivalry Series with a 3-1-1-0 record.

2019-20 Rivalry Series results

Dec. 14, 2019 USA 4, CAN 1 Hartford, Connecticut Alex Cavallini
Dec. 17, 2019 USA 2, CAN 1 Moncton, N.B. Alex Carpenter
Feb. 3, 2020 CAN 3, USA 2 (OT) Victoria, B.C. Hilary Knight
Feb. 5, 2020 USA 3, CAN 1 Vancouver, B.C. Katie Burt
Feb. 8, 2020 USA 4, CAN 3 (OT) Anaheim, California Megan Bozek

2018-19 Rivalry Series results

Feb. 12 USA 1, CAN 0 London, Ontario
Feb. 14 CAN 4, USA 3 Toronto, Ontario
Feb. 17 CAN 2, USA 0 Detroit Michigan

Atthaya Thitikul takes LPGA rookie-of-year honors in stride ahead of Tour Championship

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand smiles after the birdie on the 6th green during the second round of the TOTO Japan Classic.
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To say that Atthaya Thitikul has enjoyed a breakout rookie LPGA season is a bit of an understatement, but keeping things low-key is exactly how 19-year-old “Jeeno” likes it.

As the 2022 season concludes this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, Thitikul has already captured two LPGA titles, held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and collected the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors. But the current world No. 2 displays a wise-beyond-her-years ethos when she says what she’s most proud of this season is her mindset.

“[I’m]19 years old — I think I’m still young to handle all the things that I have now,” Thitikul told On Her Turf ahead of this week’s season finale in Naples, Fla. “I didn’t say that I handled it well, but I’ve just said that I think I can handle it. I can do it. And yeah, it’s turned out to be pretty good this year.”

To keep herself in check, the Thailand native keeps her philosophy posted on her Instagram profile, which reads, “Be you, be happy and everything will be fine.” Thitikul, who on Oct. 31 joined 18-time LPGA winner Lydia Ko as the only players in tour history to reach No. 1 before their 20th birthday, said she took stock of poor performances on the golf course and found they all had one thing in common: She wasn’t being herself.

“I didn’t have fun,” she says of those unsatisfactory rounds. “I was expecting a lot of results on the golf course, not really talking, not really enjoying it. So I think being myself, have fun, keep smiling, keep laughing and talking with other players or talking with my caddie, joking around — I think it’s the best that I can do.”

Golf has always been fun for Thitikul, who grew up in northeast Thailand and was introduced to the sport at age 6 through her father and grandfather, both of whom were not golfers themselves but recognized the opportunity that golf might provide. Thitikul teases that her grandfather was enamored with Tiger Woods, but after her first golf experience with a professional in Bangkok, she was hooked, too.

“They asked me when I finished practicing, do I like it? And I say, ‘Yeah, I do.’ Because [there were] a lot of friends and when I practice, it seemed fun and it seemed not like other sports that I have been watching on TV,” she recalls.

Thitikul’s ascent to the top of her sport was swift: In February 2017, just three days after her 14th birthday, she made her first LPGA tournament appearance at the Honda LPGA Thailand and finished 37th out of 66 players. Just five months later, Thitikul made headlines when she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tour event at age 14 years, 4 months and 19 days old, winning the Ladies European Thailand Championship on the Ladies European Tour (LET).

RELATED: 2022 CME Group Tour Championship — How to watch, who’s playing in LPGA’s season finale

For three more years, Thitikul resisted turning professional, racking up multiple international amateur victories and plenty of tour experience, notching her first LPGA top-10 finish in March 2018 at the HSBC Women’s World Championship (T-8) and earning low amateur honors that same year at two majors, the ANA Inspiration (T-30) and Women’s British Open (T-64). The following year, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship for the second time in three years, earned low amateur honors at the British Open (finishing T-29) for the second straight year and was No. 1 on the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

In her first year as a pro, during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, Thitikul broke through for her first professional win in July at the Thai LPGA Championship. She finished the season with five Thai LPGA wins and topped the money list.

Thitikul moved to the LET in 2021, winning the Czech Ladies Open in June, and just a month later she moved into the top 100 on the world rankings for the first time at No. 89. She finished 2021 with two wins, three runner-ups and nine additional top-10 finishes, securing the LET Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year titles and becoming just the fourth player to win both awards in the same season.

After finishing third at LPGA Qualifying School to earn her card for 2022, Thitikul didn’t miss a beat in her meteoric rise this season. She posted two top-10s in her first four starts before striking a staff deal with Callaway, which she followed up by winning her first LPGA title in March at the JTBC Classic. She carded an 8-under 64 in the final round to force a playoff and Nanna Koerstz Madsen on the second extra hole. She earned her second LPGA title in September at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tying the tournament record of 61 in the second round and beating Danielle Kang in a playoff.

As for the pressure of being a teen phenom, Thitikul admits she can’t ignore it but has figured out how to turn it around to her advantage: “It’s still so hard because I think as players want to be on top and we put the pressure on ourselves, and there’s a lot of eyes on us. … But at the same time, it’s kind of like you couldn’t win every week, you couldn’t have a good day every day. It’s golf. I like to think of pressure as a challenge. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think of it as challenging.”

Away from the golf course, Thitikul enjoys spending time with friends, watching Korean television dramas and indulging in Asian food (Chinese and Korean are favorites). Although she doesn’t have a pet, she says she’s a dog person, and prefers the mountains to the beach, as she loves to hike.

But don’t expect too much lounging, hiking or other non-golf activities on Thitikul’s itinerary after this season wraps on Sunday.

“This offseason, we have a lot of work to do,” she says.” There are a lot of things I still have to learn – not just for next year but for [beyond.] … But hopefully next year, it’s going to be nice and good for me as well. I really want to have a major win in my career. I don’t know if it’s going to happen next year, but hopefully.”