The year 2020 was the most turbulent, chaotic, transformative, and tragic year in recent history.
While sports were supposed to be a distraction from the social unrest, they also served as an extremely visible platform to keep uncomfortable conversations about race going.
In the midst of calamity, it was the athletes that were out here, leading the charge with action and using their influence to spark change.
Mya Moore was at the forefront of that seismic social shift, leaving the WNBA at the top of her game to devote her life to criminal justice reform, over a year before George Floyd’s death created a firestorm of emotion, protest and reflection.
At this year’s ESPY Awards, the former Minnesota Lynx forward will be honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for her nearly life-long commitment to criminal justice reform.
Moore formed the social action campaign “Win with Justice” and was able to successfully get the conviction of her now-husband, Jonathan Irons, overturned after he was wrongly convicted of burglary and assault and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Her bravery has been acknowledged by several organizations and publications.
“I’m so honored to be able to continue to share this powerful story with the world by receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award,” Moore said in a statement provided to The Root. “In the face of injustice, the courage to care about justice, human dignity and freedom is now able to be celebrated in this momentous way and I’m so happy for Jonathan and all who helped contribute to this victory!”
Maya Moore has nothing at all to prove on the basketball court. She’s a four-time WNBA champion, two-time EuroLeague champion, six-time WNBA all-star and an Olympic gold medalist. The former UConn star’s Hall of Fame college and pro legacy is already secured.
However, her on-court accolades and exploits don’t compare to what she’s done off the court. She’s an inspirational voice for a generation of young women who dare to dream beyond society’s constraints.
Moore has sacrificed two seasons out of her prime, taking a sabbatical from the Minnesota Lynx and the WNBA to fight for the wrongfully convicted.
In 2019, Moore announced she was walking away from the game to fight the case of Jonathan Irons, a man who was trapped in a 50-year prison sentence for burglary and assault charges.
While spending most of her year away from the game in prison ministries, speaking on panels and interviews about much-needed changes in how the justice system treats the poor and minorities, Moore also traveled to her hometown of Jefferson City, MO, to meet and plan with Irons and his defense team which she helped pay for.
After countless hearings and research, Irons’ lawyers with the help of Moore, successfully proved that there was no evidence — no witnesses, fingerprints, footprints or DNA to corroborate that Irons committed burglary and assault with a weapon on a suburban St. Louis homeowner.
Judge Daniel Green granted Iron’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in March, vacating the convictions for burglary and assault and ordered his release. After serving 22 years of the 50-year sentence, Irons’ sentence was overturned and he became a free man in July.
Moore’s selfless actions became even more important as the women of the WNBA took the lead in protesting, speaking out, unifying, and elevating sports from an entertainment platform to a vehicle for social justice and racial equality.
“In that moment, I really feel like I could rest,” Moore said on “Good Morning America” after Irons’ release. “I’d been standing, and we’d been standing for so long, and it was an unplanned moment where I just felt relief. It was kind of a worshipful moment, just dropping to my knees and just being thankful that we made it.”