With the WNBA season set to tip off July 25, Las Vegas Aces star and Baltimore native Angel McCoughtry is preparing for an unusual campaign after a delayed start to the year due to the coronavirus pandemic. And while the forward is glad to be on the court once again, she also knows this season carries an extra purpose.
McCoughtry joined the nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism that sprouted up after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in late May. She wanted to continue her activism during the WNBA season, so in late June, she petitioned the league to add names of police brutality victims to its jerseys.
And on July 6, the league agreed to add Breonna Taylor’s name to all jerseys, along with the phrase “Say Her Name.” Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville, Ky., police March 13.
“You fight social injustice everywhere you go,” McCoughtry said on Glenn Clark Radio July 20. “And it didn’t just happen this year. People have played all these years, and social injustice is still there. So I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s figure out a way where we can fight while still playing on the court.’”
Every instance of police brutality and injustice means a lot to the former No. 1 overall pick, but Taylor’s case had an extra connection. McCoughtry, 33, played college basketball at Louisville from 2005-2009. Taylor and her family were already fans of her dating back to those days. So when McCoughtry reached out to Taylor’s family to discuss the jersey idea, they were immediately on board.
And even though no fans will be present when McCoughtry and her Aces tip off July 26 against the Chicago Sky, the league’s social justice fight will be broadcast nationally, with games airing on the ESPN networks. The WNBA will be playing a shortened 22-game season out of a bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
McCoughtry, a five-time All-Star, said she hopes the attention on police brutality will raise awareness for it among the broader public.
“We’re planting a seed,” McCoughtry said. “We’re creating that legacy for the next generation. And guess what, it’s not going to happen overnight, but as we plant the seeds through time, everything will come back the way it’s supposed to. Breonna Taylor and her family will get justice, and many others [will, too].”
And for the Baltimore native, that fight for justice hits close to home. McCoughtry recalled how her mother would routinely be passed up for promotions in favor of less experienced white colleagues when she worked for BGE, which McCoughtry explained was a constant reminder for her family of the implicit racism Black people still face.
Beyond her family, Baltimore has seen multiple instances of police brutality and corruption, with the 2015 protests over the death of Freddie Gray while in custody being the biggest flashpoint in recent years. McCoughtry attended St. Frances Academy, which is located across the street from the city’s largest jail, the Baltimore City Detention Center. The dichotomy of that block is stark to her, especially since the prison is largely filled with people of color.
“Every Black person has a story. We all have some type of story of mistreatment for the color of our skin,” she said. “With America, we have to do a whole clean sweep.”
While that movement for change has largely been led by Black voices, McCoughtry stressed the importance of non-Black allies in the fight. She said she’s been heartened to see so many people of all backgrounds supporting Black Lives Matter, but more must be done.
McCoughtry said the best way to be an ally is to continue speaking up in support of Black lives, even if attention on the issue wanes. And for her, the WNBA’s jersey initiative is a good start.
“When we say Black Lives Matter, we’re not saying we’re better than you, you, you or you,” McCoughtry said. “Black Lives Matter means equality.”
For more from McCoughtry, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Las Vegas Aces