The year 2020 has been the most turbulent, chaotic, transformative, and tragic year in recent history. We witnessed the catastrophic surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resurgence of racial and civil unrest. Not to mention a political sideshow.
While sports were supposed to be a distraction from the calamity of this year, 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.
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.”