Arguably one of the most talented and most decorated female basketball players of all time, Maya Moore’s announcement of taking a sabbatical from the game last year was widely received with shock, particularly due to one of her reasons.
The 30-year-old, who spent eight seasons with the Minnesota Lynx as a forward and won four championships, revealed she was taking time off to advocate for criminal justice reform as well as for the release of Jonathan Irons, an incarcerated black man she believes is innocent of his alleged crime.
According to The New York Times, Moore, for the second season in a row, will not return to the WNBA as she will continue advocating for the release of Irons. A two-time Olympic gold medal winner with the United States national basketball team, she will also not be available for selection for this year’s games.
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“I’m in a really good place right now with my life, and I don’t want to change anything,” she told The New York Times. “Basketball has not been foremost in my mind. I’ve been able to rest, and connect with people around me, actually be in their presence after all of these years on the road. And I’ve been able to be there for Jonathan.”
Moore met Irons, 39, at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri during a visit in 2017. At the age of 16, he was sentenced to 50 years behind bars on burglary and assault charges for attacking a homeowner with a gun in St. Louis. During the incident, the homeowner was reportedly shot in the head.
Despite the unavailability of witnesses, fingerprints, footprints, DNA or blood evidence to link Irons to the scene of the crime, he was found guilty by an all-white jury after the homeowner identified him as the suspect. He was also tried as an adult albeit a juvenile.
According to prosecutors, Irons confessed to breaking into the home during an interrogation with a police officer. Irons and his lawyers, however, vehemently denied those claims, The New York Times further reports. The officer who interrogated Irons did not also record the session, which was between just the two of them with no witnesses around.
Moore, who got drawn by Irons’ story and have since become close friends decided to support him in whichever way she could. She has since attended several hearings after Judge Daniel Green considered his appeal despite an objection from the state prosecutors in October.
Moore remains optimistic about the appeal as she told The New York Times “We just have to keep being patient” and “keep having faith.”
Meanwhile, Judge Green is considering new expert testimonies and the results of the fingerprints he ordered to be reviewed.
“I don’t feel like this is the right time for me to retire,” Moore said when she was asked if she would ever return to the league. “Retirement is something that is a big deal and there is a right way to do it well, and this is not the time for me.”
She added: “I have had such a unique experience in the game. I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times. There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”
Another reason Moore took the sabbatical was as a result of fatigue. With WNBA players not earning enough during the course of the season, most end up playing overseas after the season in a bid to make some extra cash.
A new collective bargaining agreement that was signed recently is set to increase and improve their remuneration and incentives.