July 25, 2020 

Angel McCoughtry’s idea put into action

A sign of progress for the league and what must come next as WNBA players don Breonna Taylor’s name on their jerseys on opening weekend

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Angel McCoughtry shared an image with three simple words: Justice is coming.

McCoughtry petitioned the WNBA last month to allow players to promote the names of men and women of color who were injured or killed in incidents of police brutality. Earlier this month, the WNBA formalized plans to place the name of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in her home by police in March, on the back of player jerseys this season. 

That news came to light as the WNBA and the WNBPA announced its new platform committed to advancing social justice, The Justice Movement, along with the formation of a Social Justice Council.  The petition started by McCoughtry in June included an image of Taylor’s name on the back of a Las Vegas Aces jersey.

On one hand, the first glimpses of the jerseys was a cause for excitement. An idea from McCoughtry had truly been heard and actualized. 

“I posted my jersey this morning because I was so excited to see it,” she told reporters last week. “It’s definitely progress from the league. Because when the idea was first presented to the league, it was kind of like, ‘Okay. Well, let’s see what we can do.’ And I know they had a lot going on trying to fix the bubble and then had everybody coming up with ideas of their own. For them to make it happen is really awesome. Breonna Taylor’s family is so ecstatic about it.”

WNBA players have been among the leading voices in sports, speaking up and using their platforms to look beyond basketball. As the league defines and deploys its newly-announced social justice platform, it is vital for the players to feel that they will be supported by the league as they work to take their ideas and put them into action. 

“I think that we’re having a much more productive conversation than we’ve previously had,” said Carolyn Swords, a longtime team representative with the WNBPA and former member of its executive committee. “It’s awesome that the players are still very much taking the initiative and that teams and the league are being supportive and trying to help create a platform so that these ideas actually see the light of day and have an impact and make a difference. Because everyone who’s here cares deeply about their communities, about this country and the world. So I do think that it’s much more of a conversation, and I think that is progress.” 

McCoughtry’s petition quickly made headlines and sparked discussions of what sports leagues could do to put similar ideas into action as they returned to play. The NBA and the NBPA struck their own agreement earlier this month on a list of social justice messages that could be displayed on the backs of their jerseys. McCoughtry didn’t feel that her pitch had been overshadowed but did express a desire for more of a direct partnership with the NBA. 

“We saw that the NBA picked up on it, which is good,” McCoughtry said. “That’s what we want. But for any woman to come up with certain things, I don’t think that any woman should be overshadowed with anything. I didn’t feel overshadowed. I just felt that I wish we could have probably partnered more with the NBA, together, all of us. But I’m very proud of the progress that has happened. Hopefully we’ll have more things to come because I want us to be able to advocate more names, especially for women.” 

McCoughtry, her Aces teammates and their peers around the league will take center stage this weekend as the WNBA’s 2020 season tips at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. While the return of live sports—a popular escape for so many consumers—is exciting, McCoughtry’s initial caption was clear. WNBA players don’t want the return of live games to drown out the larger goal at hand. 

“I think after that first weekend of, ‘Oh, the jerseys are so cool,’ we can’t let that take away from what’s at hand and why we’re doing it,” said Aces teammate A’ja Wilson, one of the six leaders of the Social Justice Council. “Everyone loves it. It’s on social [media], it’s great, and I love it. She deserves it. All eyes need to be on her and also the women that have died because of this. Because at the end of the day, we have to do what’s right. We have to arrest these people. We have to hold people accountable, or else it’s really not doing anything. I am so happy that Angel stepped up and made that. Just to see people react to it. And on the men’s side, having their different slogans, that’s huge. But we still have to concentrate on what’s at hand. And that is bringing justice to those families, to those people.”

The six opening weekend games featuring all 12 WNBA teams will be televised, giving the league an opportunity to reach a larger audience as they kick off a season that has been dedicated to social justice. After signing with Las Vegas as a free agent back in February, McCoughtry will make her Aces debut with Taylor’s name directly under her own. 

“That was one thing that I honestly wanted to see get into motion,” Wilson said of the petition. “And it happened. Now we just have to lock up the people that murdered her. At the end of the day, that’s the start of something. We’re starting to get this ball rolling, and we just can’t let up.”

Written by Ben Dull

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