Maya Moore won Sports illustrated’s “Inspiration of the Year Award” for her work in fighting for criminal justice and prison reform.
While names of men such as Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James dominate the social justice headlines and receive praise for their sacrifice, Moore has long been putting in work in these areas as she sacrificed everything to fight for the release of an innocent man.
Two seasons ago, the future WNBA Hall of Famer put her career on hold at its peak, to focus on the exoneration of stranger Jonathan Irons, who spent two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Maya’s act of sacrifice in the name of social justice preceded the global movement against police brutality and systemic racism that was forged in the aftermath of the callous George Floyd murder.
When Maya first left the sport to focus on Irons’ vindication, she said she wasn’t returning until he was released. With Irons’ release from Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center, maybe we will see her suit up again in 2021.
Unless, of course, she wants to help another falsely convicted African-American man gain his freedom. The four-time WNBA champion and 2014 League MVP is just as adept at bulldog freedom fighting as she is at crossing over defenders and draining jumpers.
Moore was overwhelmed with emotions when she saw Irons emerge from behind the steel gates of oppression. Maya and Jonathan appeared live on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts.
Jonathan got 50 years at age 16 for a robbery and when Maya got wind of the situation she did some of her own investigating and saw many holes in the story. His conviction was overturned this past March which paved the way for his release.
Irons wouldn’t have gotten his rightful release without the concern, sacrifice, and persistence that Maya showed. He’d be another Black male jammed up by the system and rotting away in a correctional facility, promise unfulfilled, another Black dream deferred.
Maya’s story didn’t get the ink it deserved when she first left the league to work on Irons’ case. With the heightened awareness for systemic racism inspiring many white people to stand in solidarity with Black lives and agreeing that they matter, her sacrifice is finally getting the proper attention and respect.
Moore hasn’t set a date for a WNBA return, but her justice crusade off the court took another fairytale twist as she announced her unexpected marriage to Irons.
In the wake of COVID-19 — and the strides Black Americans have made through protesting, new legislative proposals for policing, and a reinvigorated focus on fixing systemic racism that has held Blacks back for centuries — Atlanta Dream players Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes and Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud, all opted out of the 22-game, COVID shortened Bubble season to focus on further advancement of social issues affecting African-Americans and advocacy.