Q&A: Angela Hucles Mangano on the Player 22 Future Program07.26.22
Retirement is a moment that can be extremely difficult for professional athletes, who have dedicated their whole lives to excelling in their sport and may not have a good idea of what career options exist and what job skills they already have. For female athletes, lower salaries and more limited exposure to career networks can pose an extra challenge. It's a time Angel City's vice president of player development and operations, Angela Hucles Mangano, knows all too well.
That's why Hucles Mangano, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the US Women's National Team, is so invested in the Player 22 Future Program, an innovative fund that aims to support retired NWSL players who are interested in careers in the sports industry as the move on to the next chapter in their lives. Announced in the fall of 2021, the program recently cleared its initial funding goal and will start accepting applications.
Angel City chatted with Hucles Mangano about the program, its personal importance to her, and her hopes for the future.
Let's start with the basics—what is the Player 22 Future Program?
The Player 22 or P22 program is a fund that directs financial support for programming and educational opportunities for retired NWSL players. I think it's extremely important to provide support for players when you're looking at player development. From the time a young person starts the sport to the time they're playing—especially at a professional level—and even after they're done playing. So this program really helps to support that transition from being a professional player to a retired player and bridging the gap to provide those opportunities.
Framing this in terms of player development is so interesting. Could you expand on what you mean by that?
It's a program that's near and dear to my heart because of going through this journey myself, as a former professional athlete, and finding myself in a situation where I was struggling, even though I had great educational opportunities throughout my life and I had resources around me and people to go to. That time period in an athlete's life can be very challenging. You don't necessarily have intentional opportunities and things that are set up for that time of your life as a professional athlete. So being more intentional about it and by providing that pathway, I think is really what's very important about P22.
It's definitely a personal growth opportunity as well as professional growth opportunity. The opportunities are sport-specific. We partnered with the California Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization, to administer the fund, and they vetted the programs that people can apply to.
I think being sport-specific is kind of a neat twist and nuance because we're taking professional athletes and really helping to provide career opportunities within sport. It's almost a player retention tool as well, to keep these incredible people and players within the sports realm and really expanding those opportunities for which direction they can go. We are in a time and space right now, I think, where more opportunities are opening up for for women, especially in the sports field.
When you talk about opportunities for professional growth, what will that look like concretely?
There are going to be three different opportunities, three different avenues that people can apply to. One will be through a really cool opportunity at Dartmouth College in partnership with their business school, for retired athletes to essentially have a mini-business school opportunity. Whatever sports-related business they're interested in, if they want to start a sports camp or franchise or whatever, we're providing them that chance to learn and grow. It's geared specifically for those athletes.
The United Soccer Coaches Organization as well, they have a plethora of opportunities and educational programs that people can apply to and be a part of. That could be coaching, player development—it can go in a variety of ways as well. And then the U.S. Soccer Federation has a few different opportunities that they can apply for.
What was the genesis of this idea?
I always talk about this type of stuff, and I even pitched an idea that to Julie [Uhrman] and Jess [Smith] before I was hired, of this kind of collaboration bringing athletes and sponsors and a networking opportunity together. I think with that and having conversations with Julie, in addition to some of the calls that we've been on, I think it was kind of an outgrowth of that—just collective thought and ideas, and then saying, "yeah, why not? Let's just go ahead and do this type of thing." And then we had a connection with a good nonprofit organization, so we had conversations with them. I always like to say it's a team effort.
And it was a natural fit for me to lead on this, as a former professional player. I think from the very beginning, the idea was there, I would say, due to the environment at Angel City and the type of people that are part of this organization. I don't even know exactly who had that original idea for P22—it just kind of evolved.
Do you think female athletes face different challenges than male athletes when they retire?
Yes, I do think there are differences. I think there are similarities as well. There are differences, full stop, with the structures that exist right now with male and female professional sports—so by virtue of that, retirement is an issue as well. Those can be financial differences, with how pay equity is right now between men and women. There's also a difference in the attachment of perceived value to male professional athletes versus female professionals. The opportunities that exist are more limited.
Angel City is being very intentional, very specific about inclusivity and supporting female athletes, entrepreneurs, just supporting women. There are other opportunities being birthed right now that are really positive for female professional athletes, but we aren't quite there yet. We're still not equitable.
What do you hope the future of this program looks like?
I'm hopeful that we can identify more programs to include for the individuals who apply for the fund. Right now, it's a little bit of a test to see how this will turn out. I think about how we can grow it and allow more people to apply as well.
In conversations with the California Community Foundation, we've decided, let's start with this initial amount of funding to fund this and open that up. They had to vet a few different opportunities. So I think the more opportunities that we can put to that list, the better it would be to actually expand and offer it to more people. I would love to see this being opened up. There are differences between male and female professional athletes, but it doesn't mean that there's not a need for this for male athletes. So who knows, maybe this could be extended into an MLS as well as NWSL.