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Social Justice, Equity and Sports: A Conversation with Morgan Tuck

Morgan Tuck.jfif
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MICHAEL LYLE: Morgan, thank you so much for joining us.

MORGAN TUCK: No problem. Thank you for having me.

LYLE: Recently, you held a presentation at the Lyme Art Association for the Public Art for Racial Justice Education. And you touched on a number of items related to social justice as well as your employer, the Connecticut Sun. Well, they have a program called Change Can't Wait. Can you expand on what purpose it serves?

TUCK: Yes, so Change Can't Wait is the Connecticut Sun's social justice platform that was started in the summer of 2020. It was started in response to BreonaTaylor and George Floyd, and their, murders and just how that kind of has such a big impact on society as a whole. So it was started to really create change, like that was the goal behind it. And when I came in, and started working for the Sun last June, one of my big tasks was to take Change Can't Wait and kind of revamp it a little bit. And then really put programming and action behind it instead of just kind of saying all the right things like to really be out there and kind of doing the work. So that's where Change Can't Wait started from and Change Can't Wait has four pillars, which is police reform, civic engagement, community advocacy and health equity. So now, that's what we do. We try to do different programs that fit under each pillar, and now they’re just out there creating change for you know, underserved groups in Connecticut.

LYLE: Well, you have said you were inspired by your former colleague and UConn basketball alumni, Maya Moore. And she stepped back from playing at the peak of her professional career to work on social activism. Why did you find her decision so inspiring?

TUCK: Well, first of all, I love Maya. She was someone I love watching and obviously her play on the court, but then how she carried herself off the court. And then when I got a chance to meet her on one of my first visits to UConn, I was just in awe, like, she's such a great person. When you see someone in this, and you kind of put them on a pedestal just because of how great they are. But she was a really, really great person. And then so once she really started doing social justice work, she was someone that I really looked up to, because I didn't think at the time that that was something that I would ever be willing to do. The way she used her voice. And then when she stepped away from basketball, I was like, I don't think I would ever do that. She literally left at the peak of her career, she's one of the best to ever touch a basketball. And she literally put that on the side and in the background, because she knew there was a greater cause. So I just thought, you know, the sacrifices that she was willing to make, like she didn't just say it, she literally lived it. And she made such a big sacrifice. But I don't think without her that professional sports in general would be as far along and have as much to do with social justice if she didn't take the stance that she did.

LYLE: Well, there were many athletes who weren't taking risks to bring attention to social justice issues, such as Colin Kaepernick and Naomi Osaka, who publicly addressed the impact of playing professional tennis hadn't hurt mental health. And you have members of the Atlanta Dream who took a stand against their owner. So these athletes had been criticized for doing this, though. And just wondering, does it take a stand on an issue such as this to the track from the sport? Or is it not about the sport at all?

TUCK: No, honestly I think t's a little bit of a mix, because it's totally not about the sport, right? Because we're talking about social issues that affect everyone, right? Not just athletes. But I think it takes away from the sport, in a sense, because you're using the sport as a platform, but it's not a negative way of taking away from it. But I think the athletes that you just mentioned, they both use their sport, and they use the platform that they get through that sport to be able to amplify their voice. And I know a lot of people think that they shouldn't or like they should just stick to doing your sport or focus or like, Oh, we're watching just to play the sport, we're watching just to see them play their sport or not hear what they have to say. But I think that's the benefit of when you're an athlete. And when you're someone like Colin Kaepernick or even going to soccer, right, she was the highest paid female athlete in the world, you know, for like, maybe last year, the year before. So someone that, you know, has so much to lose, in a sense for her to use that platform to talk about something that affects so many people. It might take away from people focusing on her playing tennis, but her platform is unmatched. And so to be able to use that through tennis is something that you know, it's kind of priceless.

LYLE: Well, you took a risk yourself by wearing T shirts for Briana Taylor. And she was a Louisville Kentucky medical worker that was killed by police and the wrongful rate of her home. How do people respond to you when they saw you wearing that shirt?

TUCK: It was mixed a very mixed response. I think the one thing that helped a lot was that we were in the bubble, right so we didn't have fans so we didn't have anyone on the outside that was directly there. We didn't have access to fans. We can't walk past and can't take pictures. We can do any of that. So I think that helped us not get as much negativity that we would have gotten in a normal season. But you know, it's kind of the same thing where you get some fans that are super supportive, but some that again, tell you just go focus on dribbling the basketball, right? Like they're not what they say they're not here to talk about politics, which to me, that's not a political issue, but I think that's kind of the response you get. But I'd say kind of off of that, Connecticut Sun was the only team in the WNBA last year that knelt for the national anthem. And then now we're back having fans, there's people right there, they’re in your face. We had a lot of really positive support but we had a lot of negative support people yelling at the players to stand up. People telling us in the front office, especially me that like I need to talk to players, I need to talk to our president, the players shouldn't be doing this. So I think it was definitely a mix. But there was definitely some negativity there.

LYLE: Well, shifting gears a little bit here, and we're going to talk women's sports and equity. And earlier this month, members of the US women's soccer team settled the pay equity lawsuit for $24 million. The majority of that money will go to cover back pay for the players. Is this settlement an admission that women's teams have received unequal compensation for years?

TUCK: For sure, I think it does. 100%. And, you know, even though this is a great win, you know, but it's like, we shouldn't even have to have the win. Right? It should have been that way from the beginning, especially when you look at national teams. Chelsea, the US women's soccer team, they're to me, the more known team, right? They're the ones that they get so much attention, they bring a lot of fans. And so the fact that even a team that gets that attention gets that TV coverage is still getting paid less, you know, because that's always the argument is i Oh, people don't watch them in sports, and that is investigated. So they're not gonna be able to get paid as much. But that's a team, to me, that shows that that's not true. They get so much support from everyone as a group. And so just to see that I think it shows women have gotten underpaid for a really long time. And so it's at least nice to see that, you know, some of that tide is turning.

LYLE: Well, women seem to have had to advocate for not just equal pay, but equal access to training equipment and venues. I mean, we saw on the bubble two years ago, the conflict between the WNBA and the NBA facilities in Florida, where the NBA had a nice little look like it was a paradise compared to what the WNBA was situated within the conditions that they had down here, which started a little firestorm of, hey, why is it that the NBA players get treated with royalty, but the WNBA players are getting treated like second class citizens. So that being said, Do you think that with all this, our women's athletes being taken more seriously as a result of these issues?

TUCK: I think it's starting to like it's starting to get that way. I can't say that it is 100%. But it's definitely more than what it used to be. But I'm glad the example that you brought up was perfect and even look at the NCAA bubbles that they had between the men's tournament and women's tournament. And it's like, unfortunately, a lot of us, I would say we're used to that, right? Like we're used to it being a little, it's always gonna be a little less. That's kind of how it felt like, Oh, well. It's like, we're expected to be grateful for the opportunity, instead of being kind of flipped where it's okay, let's give them the best experience possible. So I think it's starting to get there. You know, I think if you were to fast forward 10 years, it's gonna look a lot different than what it looks like now, but it's not equal. But when one day it might be.

LYLE: Speaking in the women's game, and you being a UConn alum, you've been a member of, I believe, four of the 11 National Championships. Now we've seen the game growing even more. You heard about a certain player named Paige Becker's who's now back to the Huskies and now they look like they're a team that's going to make a run towards March maybe another national championship. How important is it for a name like Paige Becker's to the sport of women's basketball today?

TUCKER: I think it's huge. You know, it's to me, it's just unreal to see what she's done being so young, especially at UConn, because that's not normal to be young at UConn you kind of be that successful like, it just doesn't happen, right? It's just not how it works. So but the thing I love about Paige is she's such a good person, like off the court. And she uses her platform really well. I think she's a special player that doesn't come around that often. But she's level headed enough where she’s such a great role model for a lot of girls coming up. Because now we do a lot of camps and clinics and things. And one thing that's very clear is that a lot of young girls don't know basketball, right? And not just how to play but who's playing and who came before them. So I think Paige is someone that has gotten so much attention, and that is so popular that she's someone that can kind of, you know, get those younger kids really interested in learning more about, you know, those players that are like, hey, they're gonna kind of pave the way for them.

LYLE: Well, now we got to talk about your employer, the Connecticut Sun. First of all, how are you enjoying your new role with the team so far in this position?

TUCK: It's been great. I started last June. So I'm still relatively new, but it's been awesome. I'd say our President, Jen Rossatti, is like the best boss I could ever have. And it's just a great feeling here. It's a great vibe. It's good to be back somewhere familiar. You know, it's definitely different. I will say the transition was a little rough coming from, you know, being on the court playing to setting an office working at a desk, but it's been really good.

LYLE: I was just about to ask about your president. Jen was another former UConn alum who I used to work for, by the way, when she was at the University of Hartford many years ago. And they have now the team has emerged. They’re now one of the top teams in the league, they’ve got DeWanna Bonner, they got Jonquel Jones and they also added Courtney Williams. So what is the team looking like as they enter this new season ahead of us?

TUCK: I think we're gonna be really, really good. I'm super excited. I'm also super excited to have Courtney back. I got to play with her for three and a half years when I got to play for the Sun. And, you know, she's someone that just brings that energy. We had a really, really great year last year, and the last couple years, but last year, I think we all kind of felt like, Okay, this is the year but I really think this is the year. We're gonna have a really, really great team and I can't wait to see them on the court.

LYLE: Finally, predictions for March Madness coming up, women's side who you got. And I think I know where we're going here because it sounds like you have the answer already in your thoughts. But your gut feeling besides the team that you play for, and of course, your alumnus.

TUCK: Yes, that's, that's my hope.100 percent. I have to say South Carolina. And I mean, I think Dawn Stanley is amazing when I've got to play for her with the national team. And just like what she's done in South Carolina is amazing. And she's someone I look up to, but their team was good. You know, I think they're gonna be really, really hard to beat when tournament time comes.

LYLE: And for the WNBA our pick, I mean…

TUCK: Oh Connecticut Sun 100 percent. I have no hesitation.

LYLE: Well, I'll say they had the number one seed last year, but they ran through a brick wall, which was the ultimate champion, the Chicago Sky. So what's the vibe this year? I would think they're a little more hungry to get back there this year and get to that next level and bring this state, which will be the first in the state’s history, a professional sports championship.

TUCK: Yeah, you know, there's when you get so close those couple years like in 2019 make it to game five in the finals, right? It was one year away, and then having these really nice runs. You learn from those mistakes a lot. It sucks and everyone hates it. But I also think, obviously with the addition Courtney Williams, coming off JJ’s MVP season, Breanna Jones MIP season, and then now having Alyssa Thomas back for the full season, she only got to play at the very end of last season coming up for Achilles injury, you know, I think it's just gonna be it's kind of everything coming together at the right time. So I have no doubt in my mind this is the year.

LYLE: Your thoughts on the new N L law were college athletes are now able to make money off their own marketing, and also their licensing and their branding.

TUCK: I'm kinda conflicted with that. I think it's great, because I think when I was back in college, Oh, that would be awesome to be able to make some extra money and not be like a broke college student. But on the other side of that, it's for a very small percentage of players that are actually going to get those deals. So for the ones that don't, it's kind of like, well, you might have a player that's making hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the team and another player that's the typical broke college student that is struggling. So I think it's a good thing. But then I also think with that there should be some type of financial literacy training, dealing with family members how to deal with your money, you know, taxes, all types of things. I think that can become problems when you're between 18 and 22, making a lot of money when you have no idea what to do with it. So I think it's a good thing, but I think it also can be a bad thing at the same time.

LYLE: Well do you think is going to help those like Paige Becker's who already has a deal?

TUCK: Yeah, she actually has a few really good ones. I think it's great for her. For players like her, right? It's not going to be that many that are going to get those type of deals. But there shouldn't be any reason why you can't make money off yourself. Right? Look at Azzi Fudd that's on UConn. She's in a tick tock commercial that I see on TV all the time. It's crazy to think just because it wasn't obviously that long ago, you couldn't do that. But I think if it's a way that you can start, you know, setting yourself up financially, especially for women's players, because, you know, even though most of us played WNBA overseas, but most of us besides a very select few are gonna have to get jobs after they're done playing. So if there's a way that you can kind of start that entrepreneurial path, I think you should, no problem.

LYLE: She's the Director of Franchise Development for the Connecticut Sun and a UConn alumnus, WNBA champion, four time national champion, Morgan Tuck, thank you so much for joining us.

TUCK: No problem. Thank you.