October 28, 2020
She Got Next, Episode 11: Pepper Persley talks to Mystics announcer Meghan McPeak
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Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues, and grows. Paid subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
Photo courtesy of Meghan McPeak
On the latest She Got Next, Pepper Persley is joined by the Washington Mystics announcer Meghan McPeak. The two discuss the #wubble at length, both what it meant on and off the court, along with how McPeak navigated the broadcasts remotely, and much more.
PEPPER PERSLEY: Hello, and welcome to this episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. I’m so excited to say that this episode includes an interview with one of the voices of the Washington Mystics and Capital City Go-Go, Meghan McPeak. So hi, Meghan, thank you so much for joining this episode of “She Got Next.” I’m so excited to chat with you today. I have 14 questions. Are you ready?
MEGHAN MCPEAK: I am always ready when it comes to you, Pep.
PERSLEY: Thank you. What was it like calling games this WNBA season, but not being at the games?
MCPEAK: It was really interesting. So when I first moved to DC, and we began the G League season with the Go-Go, we were actually doing the games from the studio when the team would be on the road. So half of the games that season, my partner for the Go-Go, which is Tony Massenburg, he and I would be in the same studio that Christy [Winters-Scott] and I were in for the Mystics this season. So I had some experience doing that. And also, too, part of me learning and getting better and trying to get more reps, I have previously actually watched NBA and WNBA games on my TV, and muted it, and called it from that standpoint, too. So I’ve had a little bit of experience calling games, whether on live TV or just for my own learning purposes, from a TV monitor. But it was definitely different having to sit six feet away from Christy, and not be able to have the same interactions that her and I would have had if we were at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Because her and I feed off of each other a lot, and not being able to simply — you know when, like, for example, when the team would get on a run last season, or something crazy would happen, and one of us or both of us would be like floored by it, we would lean over and kind of like, you know, play around and push each other around like we were on the bench, kind of thing. So to not have that aspect as well, even though we were six feet away from each other was really different, because as I said, her and I feed off of each other’s energy a lot.
PERSLEY: I could definitely still see that energy this season. It was really awesome to hear your voices covering the Mystics. I wanted to get your perspective on the 2020 season. So which players and teams stood out and why?
MCPEAK: I think from one standpoint, Chicago — the Chicago Sky stood out, and what they were able to do feeding off of last year’s momentum that they had. And what James Wade was able to do in — I mean, what every single team, Pep, in this season was able to do, and the coaches and coaching staff were able to do in a very unprecedented season was impressive. And I respect all of them for it. But I think this guy stood out to me early on. And then, you know, as many teams did, they had injuries that affected them, and whatnot. I would have loved to see them go a little deeper into the playoffs if they could have stayed healthy. Another team that stood out was the Minnesota Lynx and what they were able to do when Sylvia Fowles went down and missed, you know, the majority of the season, and they were able to still continue playing really, really well. But that’s a, you know, another testament to Cheryl Reeve and what she’s been able to do as a head coach. And as well, too, the Las Vegas Aces. I know, you know, the season didn’t end the way they would have liked to, but to see what they did. You don’t have Liz Cambage because she decided to opt out for medical reasons, and you lose Kelsey Plum to an Achilles injury, you know, very, very close to the season beginning, and everybody having to go down to Bradenton and they had to adjust on the fly. And I thought we got to see the emergence of A’ja Wilson, and her being named MVP this season, obviously, was fantastic for her. I thought she 1,000% deserved it from start to finish. You know, and I think what we saw from her, it put a little bit of pressure on Bill Laimbeer and the Aces’ front office, because I personally — unless one of them or both of them can consistently knock down 18 feet and beyond, I don’t know how — you know, they really play well, how they can play together, because we saw in 2019 how that was a positive and a negative at times. You know, as lethal as the two of them can be on the floor together, they also can sometimes in some areas be a liability. So I think it’ll be interesting for the 2021 season, you know, should it be normal, should Liz be able to play if we aren’t in a bubble situation and she doesn’t have to worry about her medical exemption and what have you, I’ll be interested to see how the two of them reengage together. As well, too, free agency, so that’s gonna affect it as well. And then as well, too, of course, you know, the Mystics, what they were able to do. No Tina Charles, no Elena Delle Donne, no Natasha Cloud, no LaToya Sanders. And then as well, too, losing Kristi Toliver in free agency and being able to see the emergence of Myisha Hines-Allen. Although if you’re in DC, and you’re a Mystics fan, you knew that she could do this, it was just she needed the time, and the playing time on the floor. So while it may have been shocking to some, it was not overly shocking to us here in DC, because we knew she had it in her. But just seeing the young core and this young group of athletes be able to still push themselves as far as they did and take the team as far as they did, it put Coach Thibault and his staff into a really, really fortunate but unfortunate position, if you will, Pep. Because now he’s got to decide, okay, if I’m getting all of that star power back next season, who am I cutting? And what am I doing with this roster of young talent as well, too, and then having to, you know, put them all together and mesh it all together, it’s gonna be really interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do. As well, too, as I said, what the Aces and Bill Laimbeer do with the return of Liz Cambage and playing her with A’ja Wilson together again. But, you know, as I said, I was impressed by everyone this season, and I know people will probably wonder, well, why didn’t you say Seattle? I mean, you were the only team that had your entire roster, I expected you guys to play the way you did. [laughs] But it was it was also fun to see what everybody did not on the basketball floor, too.
PERSLEY: Which leads me right into the next question. Why do you think the WNBA’s activism and unity is so crucial?
MCPEAK: I think, Pep, because as female athletes, they have always been dealing with having to fight for equality. And if you completely take out the financial aspect of it, they’re still fighting for equality. You can, you know, you can have a game on and just scroll through Twitter, or any social media platform really, or even not have a game on and scroll through, and you can see the vitriol, and the disrespect, and the negativity that comes the way of female athletes. And it’s not even just the WNBA, Pep, as well, too, it’s, you know, the National Women’s Soccer League dealt with it as well, too. And it’s the same thing that female athletes have always been dealing with, and that’s just simple equality as a athlete. I don’t understand why we have to call them female athletes, male athletes, at the end of the day, they’re all athletes. So I think that’s why we see the WNBA continued to be at the forefront of these conversations, whether it’s gender equality, just simple humanity equality and race and social justice equality as well, too. And I think because they’ve always been fighting since day one of the league’s inception, it makes it natural for them to just continue fighting for other things. And then as well, too, you have a league that’s over 80% Black women. So the fact that they then step into that realm of social and racial injustices and fighting for that as well, too, it’s not surprising. And then you think about the fact that if you have a league that’s over 80% Black women, that 20-ish percent that’s not Black women, they stood with their sisters, you know, shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm, saying that, you know, this is not just your fight anymore, we’re gonna fight with you, and we’re gonna fight for you. So it showed the unity that these players and athletes have together, not just as a league, but then as well, too, sharing it with their brothers on the other side in the NBA and vice versa as well.
PERSLEY: I know you touched on the unity and standing arm-in-arm, which reminds me of August 26 and 27. The Mystics have been very active in social justice, especially on those days, and the day they boycotted their game against the Dream. What was your reaction to that day, in that moment?
MCPEAK: I wasn’t surprised. As you said, the Mystics, you know, they stood for something that day. And hearing, you know, the different takes of those that were involved and hearing Mike Thibault speak to how things kind of played out that day, hearing, you know, from Ariel Atkins, Tianna Hawkins and other players on how things played out that day as well, too. And it didn’t surprise me that they were not happy, they were uncomfortable with taking the court and as a unit, they made a decision. And a lot of respect, as well, too, goes to, Mike Thibault and the coaching staff for giving them the information on, you know, what this will affect, how this affects them, how to — not just on the floor, but the season financially, what have you — everything that could affect them by making this decision, he gave them all that information. And then he stepped back and allowed them to make the decision as players because he recognized this moment was bigger than him, and bigger than them, and he needed them to make the right decision for themselves and not have any influence from him in the in the decisionmaking. So I think a lot of respect goes to him as well, too, for giving them the education, but allowing them to make the decision. And then for them to, you know, be willing to forfeit that game, had the Dream and the other teams that night not followed suit and stood in unity with them, that would have — you look at how the rest of the season then played out and the playoff situation with that final game and the implications that were around that final 40 minutes, ironically enough, against Atlanta, because it was the makeup game for that missed game. It would have been interesting to see how all of that played out had the other teams not stepped up and stood in unison with them, and how that boycotted game and forfeited game would have affected them down the stretch, and how willing they were to say, forget the game and forget the season, this is bigger than that, and we could care less. And I have the utmost respect and admiration for them. And I am truly inspired by what they did and what they stood for in that moment, and made it clear, and then came out with a decision and plan on how they were going to move forward. Because that was the biggest thing that people were wondering — okay, you’re gonna boycott, you’re gonna forfeit, you’re gonna do this, that and the third — but what is your end goal? What is your plan? And you think of everything, Pep, that was happening at the time, Jacob Blake is shot, essentially, in an attempted murder. By the grace of I don’t know what, whatever, you know, the listeners may believe in as a higher power, he was saved. He was protected. Yes, he has serious ramifications from that situation, but he’s still alive. And that’s not what a lot of families can say right now with similar situations. So they had had enough and they just needed time to think. And when you think about the fact they were playing along with the NBA every other day at that point, and it was just one thing after another and it kept piling up and piling up. And that was — I want to say that was the breaking point, where all the athletes said, we need two days to think for ourselves without any outside influence, and figure out what our plan is. And I think both leagues came up with a plan, along with the players association for each league, and the leagues themselves and they put it on everyone, and said, it’s not just going to be us, we need the owners to get involved and what have you. So I have, as I said, the utmost respect and admiration for all of them from those two days, that kind of just — it shook the world, essentially, because it stopped everything.
PERSLEY: Kind of like a — they needed the time and they deserve the time. They’re not only professional athletes to play basketball at a high level and who speak up and use their voices, but they’re also just humans, so they should get breaks, too, especially in the season when they’re playing every other day. Turning back to basketball a little bit, I know you touched on this in the second question, but why do you think Myisha Hines-Allen had such impressive development in the 2020 season?
MCPEAK: I think, Pep, it was just simply the fact that playing time was available. She, you know, in her offseasons, wherever she was, whether it was overseas or just working out prior to going overseas, and then as well, too, in the WNBA seasons that she was playing, she was getting very limited minutes. And when you’re, you know, playing behind Elena Delle Donne, LaToya Sanders, Tianna Hawkins and many others, it can be tough for a coach to find playing time for, you know, 12 players when you’ve only got 40 minutes. So she was in a situation that wasn’t favorable to showing what she could do. Staff and teammates knew what she could do, she just needed the minutes. And it’s unfortunate that players had to either opt out for medical reasons, or personal reasons, or because of injuries they weren’t able to play in the in the bubble. But it afforded her the minutes. And I think because she had the playing time — not just the practice time, because it’s one thing to, you know, go and practice and show off what you can do, you’ve also got to then translate it to the game going against a team who isn’t around 24/7. So I think that was really the biggest thing was it was the simple fact that minutes were available, and she took huge advantage of it. And as I said earlier, it puts Coach Thibault in a really fortunate but unfortunate situation, because he’s got to figure out now where he’s playing time is going around. But it also allows him to throw out different lineups in different situations against different teams. So whether you — depending on how you look at it, I know if you’re Coach Thibault, I can assume he’s looking at it with an unfortunate but a fortunate eye, because most coaches would give anything to be in a situation where they can look at a roster they had and think, okay, I’ve got, you know, I got 10 amazing players that showed me what they could do this season. And now I’ve essentially got, you know, four superstars that I’ve got to reintegrate into this roster as well, too. So he’s in a situation where a lot of coaches would wish they could do or have to figure this out. But at the same time, it’s it’s not going to be easy, because he’s going to have to, you know, cut players, not play players. So it’ll be interesting. But I think for Myisha it was just the simple fact that she put in the work and grinded it out, and put in the time of improving her skills and getting better with the developmental staff. She just needed the time on the court to be afforded to her so she could show them, okay, this is what you taught me; this is how I use it in a game.
PERSLEY: Yep, Coach Thibault’s kind of dealing with having too much talent, which is kind of a blessing and a curse, like you were saying. What are your thoughts on Ariel Atkins’ voice for racial justice?
MCPEAK: Fantastic. I think she, you know, it was interesting because she’s always been so quiet, or not as outspoken as what we witnessed that day. And I think she felt uncomfortable, but comfortable enough to say, you know what, I need to say something and I’m going to say something. And I say uncomfortable but comfortable because when you’re a quiet person, and I say she’s quiet because — she does talk I’ve had many conversations with with with Ariel Atkins, myself — it just takes her some time to warm up and get used to you and get to know you to where she then does have these conversations. So I think because people see her as such a quiet person, they were a little thrown off or it was unexpected that she was going to be the one that spoke for the team. But she was prepared. She spoke from the heart and she spoke from from her mind. You can tell that she didn’t have anything, you know, she might have had something pre-written possibly on her cell phone, but she never used it, as you saw in that interview with the team behind her and Little E beside her as well, too, with Holly row. That evening, you could tell that she was speaking her true, raw emotions from herself and her teammates. And I am amazed at her, I am impressed by her and I have the utmost respect for her as well, too, because that — it’s not easy when you’re someone who doesn’t typically put yourself in those situations to then turn around and be put in that situation and have to speak. And now you see it kind of on a loop, continuously being used in different, not promotions, if you will, but different commercials and videos and, you know, different platforms using that as a point to prove that athletes, as you said, they’re not just athletes, they’re also humans. And it’s something that I think, you know, I try to remind fans that at the end of the day, they’re no different, Pep, than you, I, your parents, my parents, our friends, your classmates. They just have paychecks that may have more zeroes and commas than ours do. But they’re still humans, and they need to be treated as such. So I think that was part of the whole, we need a break to think our thoughts through and put this into action, put this into a plan. And I think that’s what we saw in Ariel Atkins that evening.
PERSLEY: Definitely, definitely, I feel like so many people were impressed by that. And then the platform that she got from there to continue to speak her voice and have that message, I think is really important. And I’m really glad that she had that opportunity. What are your very early thoughts on the 2021 Mystics?
MCPEAK: Oh, well, it’s hard, Pep, because we don’t know what the season will look like. With the unknown surrounding, you know, COVID-19. And figuring that out, and getting that under control, that will obviously play a role in what the 2021 season looks like for the WNBA. Will we see another bubble situation? Will they figure out a way to maybe do kind of like a mini bubble situation and, you know, try to have teams play all of their games against the same team, as opposed to — to try and limit the travel? Because remember, unlike the NBA, the WNBA players don’t fly charters, they fly commercial, so they fly with you and I. So their travel is then put at a higher risk by flying commercial. So that will be interesting on how they figure that out. Because if you’re going to, you know, travel and go to everybody’s home city, but you’re not going to play in front of fans, you still have risk factors that you have to take into consideration. So do we maybe see them, you know, when the Mystics and the Liberty would play each other three or four times, do we see them do, you know, they do it all at one time in one city and they, you know, just play it there and have, you know, two games home, two games away, but it’s only played in one of the cities so there’s less travel, and then kind of move teams around that way. I know, and I feel that Cathy Engelbert, Commissioner Engelbert, will work with the players association on figuring that out, as well as the league front office, and try to figure out the best way. But what’s important is they do it the safest way for the players. So without knowing how, you know, COVID will affect the seasons. It’s hard to really say what I can expect from next season from the Mystics because we don’t know if a bubble situation will affect players opting in and opting out again. But if everything was to go to some sense of normalcy, where you could have a Cloud, a Delle Donne, a Charles and a Sanders return, I wouldn’t be shocked if they’re hoisting another banner.
PERSLEY: Definitely. To have all their stars back, like, plus what we’ve seen from Myisha Hines-Allen and Aerial Powers, who got injured in that season. [MCPEAK: Exactly.] You see them getting another ring. [MCPEAK: Yep.] I could definitely see that happening. Can you share your story on how you became a broadcaster, and can you share some of your career highlights?
MCPEAK: Yeah, so I wanted to think of what my career would be after playing. I had the aspirations of being a professional basketball player once I was done with college, but I also wanted to prepare myself for what happens and what am I going to do when the ball stops dribbling, because eventually it will. And I graduated. Unfortunately, just because of injuries, overseas wasn’t an option, so I had to fast-track my post-playing career professionally to my post-playing college career. And from there, it kind of just, the ball just kept moving for me when it comes to broadcasting. I was doing local university men’s and women’s basketball games on the radio station for that school. And then from there, I was in the Canadian semi-pro basketball league that they have running. And then from there, the 905, which is the Raptors’ G League affiliate, and just networking and continuing to build my brand and build my platform. From there, it then led me to here in DC with Monumental Sports & Entertainment, and my job with the Go-Go as well as the Mystics, and, you know. So, a couple of career highlights probably would be, you know, being and still remaining, the only female play-by-play voice in the NBA G League, and one of, you know, a handful of Black men or women play-by-play voices within the NBA umbrella. And then, you know, being the voice for one of the most historic and unprecedented seasons in Mystics franchise history and watching them, you know, win a title and hoist the trophy at the end of the season. So it’s nice that I’ve only got a couple highlights right now, because it means that my career isn’t done.
PERSLEY: Yes, definitely, definitely. I think we’ll end on that note. I’m really excited to see the rest of your career and just wanted to thank you for being a mentor for me and for being on my show. Thank you so much.
MCPEAK: Pep, thank you so much. I appreciate you and I appreciate everything you’re doing. And I know I tell you this all the time, but I’m so very proud of you turning a negative situation into such a positive for you. And I’m thankful that your parents have allowed me to get to know you more and more, and call you all family.
PERSLEY: Thank you. Thank you so much. Bye.