by Nick Hamilton (@NickHamiltonLA)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN — WNBA superstar Maya Moore is a champion on every level when it comes to basketball, from high school to college to her pro career and on the international level, but nothing is more rewarding for Moore than to help an innocent man achieve his freedom. For decades Black people and people of color have been railroaded by the criminal justice system in various cases, and Johnathan Irons’ case was no different.
On Wednesday evening Irons was finally freed from a Missouri state penitentiary as he hugged his family and friends and Moore who were waiting outside.
“I feel like I can live life now. I’m free. I’m blessed. I just want to live my life worthy of God’s help and influence,” Irons told Robin Roberts on Good Morning America.
He was convicted in 1998 for a burglary and shooting at the home of a white man in O’Fallon, Missouri. Irons was only 16 years old and was tried as an adult in court, and was convicted by an all-white jury. He was serving a 50-year sentence and throughout the process maintained his innocent.
Both Irons and Moore met during her family’s prison ministry in Missouri and maintained a friendship throughout the years, until 2019 when she announced she would forego her season to fight for justice for Irons. Much like on the basketball court, when Moore is focused she’s relentless until its done as she’s shown with her efforts of justice for Irons.
“When I stepped away two springs ago, I just really wanted to shift my priorities to be able to be more available and present to show up for things that I felt were mattering more than being a professional athlete,” Moore told GMA. “So this is obviously one of the biggest and most direct results of that.”
Moore had been vocal about racism and injustice back in 2016 when her and her Minnesota Lynx teammates were heard loudly in the wake of the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of police. The team wore shirts that read “Change Starts With Us”. The front of shirts also read “Justice & Accountability” bringing attention a continuing problem in society, the murder of unarmed Black people at the hands of those who are suppose to protect and serve.
She continued to speak against racism and oppression to bring more attention the issues that face our communities.
“Racism is a mindset that lives within,” Moore told Time Magazine. “Our country comes from a centuries-long culture of dehumanizing Black and brown bodies. So what role does racism play? A huge role. You can’t downplay how deeply woven and embedded this is in our country. Clearly we’re not over it. We’re just now really starting to talk about it. I don’t want us to underestimate this beast that we’re facing called racism.“
More than just an athlete, Moore is an activist that truly sacrificed it all in the name of freedom and justice. The selfless act inspired other WNBA players to be more cognizant socially in their communities. We often praise Lebron James for his awareness, yet not enough credit and praise goes to Moore who has not only spoken words but led with action and dedication.
The six time WNBA All-Star, four time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist got the ultimate victory as she assisted with Irons being free. All the championships combined couldn’t measure up to helping an innocent man achieve justice and spend the rest of his days where he belongs — on the outside.
Moore also revealed that what’s next for her is much needed rest. She will sit out the 2020 WNBA season, but will revisit her decision to return in 2021.
“I haven’t really been able to have the fullness of the rest that I wanted, and so I’m like OK guys, now is the time to take a break. So I’m looking forward to some rest and then seeing what the future holds maybe around the same time next spring.”