"Now Is the Time": These WNBA Players Are Opting Out of a Season to Fight For Racial Justice
The WNBA season is set to start in late July, but at least three players will be opting out and using their time to fight for racial justice.
Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore, Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery, and Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud have all spoken out about their decisions to sit out the 2020 season to focus on social reform. It will be the second straight season missed by Moore, considered to be one of the most accomplished basketball players of all time, who has focused her efforts on criminal justice reform. Cloud and Montgomery have both come forward in the last week to announce their own decisions. "I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball," Cloud (above) said in a statement.
During discussions on the WNBA's return, players were wary of starting play during a pandemic and in a moment where social justice issues are at the forefront, and many expressed a desire to focus on reform, ESPN reported. "Amplifying the voices of our players is really important," said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. "They do it all year round, and I think they can use this opportunity to be together to enhance what they're doing. We're going to work with them on that and support them in it."
"The league has said to us, 'You guys are at the wheel; whatever you want to do, we're going to try to make it happen,'" said Chiney Ogwumike, LA Sparks power forward and vice president of the WNBA Players' Association, in an interview with ESPN. Other WNBA players have opted out due to pandemic-related health concerns. Some stars, including Ogwumike and Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, are planning to play but have used their platforms to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Read more on Moore, Montgomery, and Cloud's decisions ahead.
In January, the New York Times reported that Moore was skipping her second straight season with the Lynx. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was specifically pushing to overturn the conviction of Jonathan Irons, a man imprisoned for 23 years for burglary and assault. Irons's case was officially overturned in March by a Missouri state judge.
Moore has been an advocate for criminal justice reform since 2016, particularly for people from marginalized communities, and her choice to step back from the WNBA in 2018 came at what many believe to be the height of her career. Moore said she's not ready to retire, but that she's in "a really good place" in her life. "I don't want to change anything," she said in January. "Basketball has not been foremost in my mind."
"There's work to be done off the court," Montgomery wrote on Twitter on June 18 in announcing her decision to skip the season. The 11-year WNBA veteran told USA Today that her choice was cemented when she watched the video of George Floyd's death in police custody. "I think it happened to everyone who watched the video. We all saw that video of a man just begging and pleading," she said. "It's heartbreaking. I don't know how else to describe it. I think about my family, and other young minorities, and I'm like 'We can't allow this to continue. We got to do something.'"
In her statement, Montgomery acknowledged the long road ahead, but that the work must be done, especially now. "Social justice reform isn't going to happen overnight but I do feel that now is the time and Moments equal Momentum. Let's keep it going!"
Cloud, who won the WNBA Championship last year with the Mystics, said opting out of the 2020 season is "one of the toughest decisions of my career." She considered many factors, but the biggest was that "I am more than an athlete," she wrote in a statement on June 23. "I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can't matter."