Maya Moore to skip a second WNBA season and the 2020 Olympics to fight for Missouri inmate's freedom
For the second year in a row, Minnesota Lynx guard Maya Moore will intentionally miss an entire WNBA season. What she’ll be doing with that time instead will be pushing for the release of a Missouri man she believes is wrongfully imprisoned.
The man’s name is Jonathan Irons, and he has spent over 20 years in prison because of a conviction for burglary and assault of a man in his home with a weapon. A look back on the trial that sent Irons to prison in 1997, however, has called the conviction into question. Irons, who was an impoverished black 16-year-old living in Missouri at the time, was tried as an adult, faced an all white jury and the accusations levied against him had no evidence to support them other than the accuser’s word, according to his lawyers. Moore met Irons in 2017 at the Jefferson City Correctional and became inspired to help him.
“I’m in a really good place right now with my life, and I don’t want to change anything,” Moore 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 has helped Irons pay for a legal defense team and attended some of his courtroom hearings. But despite the second straight lost season, with athis time around, she’s emphasized that she’s not ready to retire just yet.
“I don’t feel like this is the right time for me to retire,” Moore told the Times. “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.”
Given that Moore is only 30, a retirement at this point in her career would be quite a surprise given all that she’s accomplished so far. She’s a four-time WNBA champion, a six-time All Star and won the league MVP in 2014. Still things looked a lot less promising around the time she announced her first year-long hiatus from the league. After the 2018 season, the Lynx named Moore a “core player,” a restrictive designation that gave the Lynx exclusive negotiating rights for her next contract and prevented Moore from hitting the open market — like an even more team-friendly version of the NFL‘s franchise tag. A few days later, CBS-affiliate WCCO reported that Moore’s future with the team was uncertain, with a retirement at 29 looming as a possibility. Ultimately, the Lynx gave their blessing.
Moore will not only miss the WNBA season this year. As a result of her commitment to getting Irons’s release, she’ll also has taken herself out of consideration for the U.S. Olympic team, and the organization could not have been more understanding of Moore’s decision.
“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” Carol Callan, director of the U.S. national team, told the Times. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team. We know how devoted she is to what she believes in, and that what she is doing is remarkable.”
Moore has two Olympic gold medals, winning with Team USA at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games.