Aces’ Angel McCoughtry pleased jersey-name idea caught on

9:04 PM ET


CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

WNBA veteran Angel McCoughtry was pleased to see the news Saturday that the NBA might allow its players to wear jerseys with social justice or social cause messages, instead of their last names. But she hopes there’s a realization that a WNBA player last week proposed the idea of using jerseys for a cause; it came from McCoughtry herself.

On June 22, the Las Vegas Aces guard/forward posted on Instagram the suggestion the WNBA players have the option to wear names other than their own on their jerseys. Specifically, of people who have been killed or injured in instances of social injustice, or of front-line workers in the coronavirus pandemic.

McCoughtry’s idea was that WNBA players would seek permission from the person whose name they wanted to wear, or from their loved ones. And in so doing, they could develop a relationship with the person or their families, as well as publicize causes they are passionate about.

“That’s great, because it’s going to reach a wider audience,” McCoughtry said Sunday from Las Vegas about the possibility of NBA players using their jerseys to support issues they care about. “I just wish they would shine the light on our ideas a little more. I don’t want to be shut up in the dark when we come up with ideas.

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“The petition was started because I just wanted to make sure we had the support of the fans. I think we do a lot of things as WNBA players for our communities. My concern is that sometimes our initiatives are not seen by the world. If the NBA has that same idea, it will get so much love and attention, because they have a bigger platform. I get that. We constantly speak out, and it’s a little harder for us. But if this jersey campaign gets done for both leagues, I’ll be really happy.”

McCoughtry said she hasn’t heard directly from the WNBA about the jersey idea, but she understands the league has a lot going on with trying to get things squared away to have a 2020 season in Bradenton, Florida.

“They’re dealing with so much, but I feel the support,” she said. “I know they’ve been given a lot of ideas. I heard they were considering it, and I’m grateful for that.”

The WNBA, contacted about the jersey idea, released a statement earlier this week from commissioner Cathy Engelbert: “Together, the WNBA and the WNBPA are dedicated to fighting the systemic racism and racialized violence that has plagued our society. Working in close partnership with teams and the WNBPA and advised by leaders in social justice reform, the league aims to build a multifaceted platform to battle racial injustice and leverage the 2020 WNBA season and beyond to help players advance their social justice work. In our conversations, the players have voiced a strong desire to lead this effort and we have pledged strong support from the league.”

For McCoughtry, 33, this WNBA season will be like none before, and not just because of the unusual circumstances of playing at a single site at IMG Academy, due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will also be her first time playing for a WNBA team other than the Atlanta Dream, who drafted her No. 1 in 2009 out of Louisville.

McCoughtry signed with Las Vegas as a free agent and said she’s extremely eager to play with fellow standouts such as A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage and for coach Bill Laimbeer.

“I still want to compete,” she said, “and I haven’t played basketball in so long. I’m going to be a little older Angel, but athletically, I’m still there. I’ve still got it.”

McCoughtry sat out the 2017 WNBA season to rest after years of playing both in the United States and overseas. Then, late in the 2018 WNBA season, she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury, which kept her out of the playoffs, where the Dream lost in the semifinals to the Washington Mystics.

McCoughtry was out for 2019 recovering, and the Dream finished with the worst record in the league at 8-26. McCoughtry also began to feel that she and the Dream management had drifted apart, and she needed to finally explore her options elsewhere. After 10 seasons in Atlanta, where she averaged 19.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists and led the franchise to the WNBA Finals three times, McCoughtry moved on.

“It was hard, and at first it seemed surreal, because I live in Atlanta and I’m so active in the community,” McCoughtry said. “Then I had to rethink it: ‘No, I’m not really leaving it behind. I still have a home in Atlanta, and I will still have relationships with the community.’

“Could I have retired in Atlanta? Yeah. Ideally, that’s probably the way it would have happened. But the Aces are a class-act organization, and I feel I made a great decision. I love the support of the fans in Las Vegas, and I can’t wait to develop a relationship with this community.”

This season, though, will be in Florida, with the WNBA hoping to have a 22-game regular season and standard playoffs running from late July to October. McCoughtry said she really didn’t hesitate about committing to play, despite the concerns everyone has about the coronavirus.

“I think if we follow the proper protocol, we should be OK,” McCoughtry said of the WNBA’s attempts to establish a bubble. “We’re regularly going to be tested. We all have that thought in the back of our minds, like, ‘What if?’ But I just think we still have to continue to live, as long as we commit to being safe.”

She also said she wants to embrace the opportunities presented by having all the WNBA players in one place for an extended time.

“I’m calling it summer camp,” she said. “I can talk more often to a Sue Bird or a Breanna Stewart or Nneka Ogwumike. I’m eager to talk with all the players about what we can do. It think it will help with a lot of social justice initiatives.

“And we can’t forget the front-line workers. We’re forgetting them a little bit because there’s so much going on with social justice. But they’re in there, working their butts off, taking care of people 24/7.”

McCoughtry also said she supports those players who have opted to sit out this WNBA season, either for health reasons or to focus on other initiatives.

“I want to show people that you can fight for social justice on and off the court,” she said. “It’s your individual preference. We have people who are doing both.”

McCoughtry said she sees her role for the Aces as helping to provide experience and leadership, and she knows that will require speaking up. She also knows that can be complicated at times, especially involving off-court issues.

In April, McCoughtry posted on Twitter her response to criticism of one of the Dream’s co-owners, Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Loeffler, who was appointed to her senate seat in December, was then facing questions about stock-market transactions in light of what she had been told confidentially as a member of Congress regarding the coronavirus earlier in the year.

McCoughtry said on Twitter that Loeffler “has always had my back when I needed her” and that she had helped the women on the Dream have jobs. McCoughtry also said she would never “judge a person on their political views.”

McCoughtry got considerable pushback on Twitter, including from those who questioned Loeffler’s conduct as potentially constituting insider trading. Many also brought up other political stances Loeffler has made, including on LGBT issues, that seem at odds with the beliefs of a sizable portion of WNBA players and fans.

McCoughtry then posted that she appreciated the dialogue and had not been trying to weigh in on those aspects of Loeffler. She said she only wanted to comment on Loeffler’s support for her and the WNBA. Suffice to say, though, Loeffler remains a very controversial figure in the league.

On Sunday, McCoughtry addressed the latest issue regarding Loeffler. In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Loeffler said Black Americans in Atlanta carrying guns while protesting the death of Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police were an example of “mob rule.” Yet Loeffler also frequently has said she’s a strong advocate of the Second Amendment.

McCoughtry said she was disappointed with Loeffler’s choice of words, and called it hurtful.

“There are so many double standards — why are we as Black Americans called ‘mobs’ for doing the same thing that other Americans do who are lighter-skinned?” McCoughtry said. “The choice of words has to be better, and lack of understanding of our community has to be better. That’s all I ask.

“The things I said earlier about Kelly are things I meant from my heart, because she has been a great person in my life. But I think there is a lack of understanding on her part. She is a businesswoman who gets things done, so I know she has the ability to learn more about the African American community. I’d hope this could be a learning experience for her.”

McCoughtry said she understands not everyone will agree with what she has said about Loeffler or other issues. But she wants to continue to speak out on things she believes are important, and she hopes this season can be a platform for her and her WNBA peers.

“These women have so many great ideas,” McCoughtry said, “and there are a lot of amazing things they are doing.”

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