Maya Moore: The 4x Champion Who Left The Sport Behind to Help An Innocent Man Get Out of Prison

When we talk about athletes who are also influential civil rights activists, the same names rise to the top of the list. Muhammed Ali, Bill Russell, Lebron James, and Colin Kaepernick have all helped make strides in the fight for equality.

Each of them deserves their roses for both their achievements on the court/field, and more so for their activism away from sports. But there is another prominent athlete who deserves her roses too.

Maya Moore, WNBA player, 4x WNBA Champion, 2x NCAA Champion, 2x Gold Medal winner, and a 1x MVP, is currently taking a 2 year sabbatical. 

Why you ask? Well in 2017 Moore visited Jefferson City Correctional Center, a maximum-security penitentiary in rural central Missouri. Moore was there to see inmate Jonathan Irons, who was serving 50 years for burglary and assault with a deadly weapon. 

No blood, or fingerprints tied Irons to the crime. However Irons, a poor black 16 year old kid from Missouri, had been convicted by an all-white jury. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison. 

After finding out the details, Moore could no longer just shut up and dribble. She needed to do something. So she decided to pause her playing career, and work towards getting justice.

At the time, Moore shocked women’s basketball with her announcement. At only 29 years old, Moore was still in her prime, and could have just kept playing, adding to her GOAT legacy. 

While she took no W’s on the court these past 2 seasons, Moore won a battle much bigger than any championship game she’s ever played in. In March 2020, Irons was released from prison after a judge overturned his conviction. Irons spent 23 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. 

“She saved my life,” Irons, who is now 40 years old, said about Maya Moore. “I would not have had this chance if not for her and her wonderful family.” 

Moore compared the overturning of Irons’s conviction to hoisting a Final Four trophy.

So why are we not giving Moore her roses as both an all-time great player and activist?

Moore put the ball down at 29 years old, after a seven-year run that saw six trips to the WNBA Finals. I beg you to find me an athlete in any sport who left their sport while at their peak, for reasons others then injury. 

Michael Jordan left at 29 to play baseball, not actually do something positive. In football, Jim Brown retired at 29, but that was to pursue an action career. Sandy Koufax, one of the best pitchers of all time, retired at age 30, but due to injuries.

For a more recent comparison, Colin Kaepernick risked his career for his fight for equality and to end police brutality. But even Kaepernick isn’t a fair comparison as he was past his prime.

For that reason, history should remember her in the same conversation as Muhammed Ali. Ali was the undefeated heavyweight champion when he was banned from boxing for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War. He appears to be the only true comparison for Moore. 

Moore has made it clear she is not retired. She just has more important causes to give her undivided attention to. Moore will return to the hardwood one day, but for now she continues to fight for justice.

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