Column: Maya Moore embodies why athletes should never ‘stick to sports’

When Maya Moore announced she was taking off the 2019 and 2020 seasons to take on other pursuits, she could have easily decided to put away her Minnesota Lynx jersey and walk away from the game.

To say that Moore’s career is a decorated one is an understatement. Two-time NCAA national champion with UConn. Four-time WNBA champion with the Lynx. Two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA. That does not even begin to scrape the surface when looking at Moore’s future Hall of Fame (women’s and Naismith) resume.

But took time away from basketball for a more important reason. And a few days ago, that reason was fulfilled.

Jonathan Irons – a Black man from Missouri who received a 50-year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit became a free man after a judge overturned his conviction and there was not enough evidence to retry the case.

Additional attention was brought to the case because of Moore and her status as one of the best basketball players in the world. The fight for justice for Irons was difficult and hard, but nothing worth ever having in life will come easy.

She decided that even if she is a winner at basketball, she would not allow ball to define who she is completely. Moore wanted to be ‘more than an athlete,’ following an example that has been set over the years by Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick among others.

Those athletic pioneers did not “stick to sports” because they understand that while sports has a major role in society it can also be a major agent for change.

Moore understands that whether she is the future Hall of Famer she is or within a less glamorous position, she is still a Black woman when all is said and done. Across the sporting landscape in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders by police, more athletes have understood more than ever that they too are more than simply the sports they play.

Without sports to distract us because of the coronavirus pandemic, the public at large (including the racists) have little to no choice but to listen to the concerns Black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim and Native Americans have voiced for ages.

Plus – more may be finally getting the message that police brutality, mass incarceration and systemic racism are all aspects of our country that need to be fearlessly addressed – and defeated. It can even be said that it is a reason we do not need sports right now because these honest talks we are having with ourselves reveal a truth about the United States that it has been unwilling to admit – that it cannot live up to its ideas of freedom and equality unless everyone is included.

The WNBA was present in the activist square before it became the cool thing to do to get involved. Lots of trolls constantly lambast the W for all sorts of sexist reasons, but plenty of athletes in other sports appear to be setting an example that WNBA players set initially in 2016 with its on-court Black Lives Matter protests.

Those players did not “stick to sports” as many ignorant and selfishly-minded “fans” would prefer. Nor should any athlete going forward. Rich individuals who own sports teams do not “stick to sports” when making political contributions or when looking for taxpayer dollars for stadia, so the athletes themselves (aka who those that pack sports stadia pay to see) should not “stick to sports” when advocating for social change.

Just as we said thank you to previous athletes who saw themselves as more than simply their uniform, we must say thank you to Maya Moore and many others in the pro sporting realm. As she proved via her work on freeing Jonathan Irons, she let everyone know that true legacies are established when it has a profound impact on others around you.

Stick to sports? No. Stick to striving for a better world.

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives

–Jackie Robinson

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