We haven’t heard much from Maya Moore since her surprising announcement last February that she was skipping this WNBA season with the Lynx to focus on her family and faith. So last Monday, when she posted a fresh video to her public Facebook page, fans parsed every word, seeking clues about her future.
Moore is trying to get a new trial for a friend, Jonathan Irons, serving a 50-year sentence for a non-fatal shooting that happened when he was 16. Since explaining her sabbatical decision in The Players Tribune, Moore has given just two interviews, to The New York Times and the Associated Press. She told both she believes prosecutorial misconduct led to a wrongful conviction for Irons, since no physical evidence tied him to the crime scene. Moore started a change.org petition to help publicize Irons’ case with the hashtag #WinWithJustice.
Earlier this week, Moore visited Washington, D.C. to speak to the Congressional Black Caucus and join a panel discussion about criminal justice reform and sports. This is Moore’s life now, her focus, her mission. Irons is scheduled to be in court Oct. 9 for an evidentiary hearing to try and reopen the case, and Moore plans to be there, according to the AP.
Regardless how this turns out, Moore’s selflessness and dedication to her cause should be applauded, celebrated. Instead, too many people have made it clear they care about only one thing: whether she returns to basketball. In the Facebook video, Moore says, “I’m dedicating my life to freeing Jonathan the same way I dedicated myself to each game in the WNBA.” Some fans and media types pointed to the word “dedicated,” past tense, as evidence she plans to retire. And that’s all they want to talk about.
Nice job missing the point. In more than 30 years around professional sports, I’ve never covered an athlete with Moore’s depth, compassion and grace. There’s nothing phony or self-serving about her. When she speaks of her faith and devotion to God — subjects that make some of us roll our eyes — it’s genuine, clearly the driving force in her life. The autographs she signed for thousands of fans over the years include a reference to her favorite Bible verse, Colossians 3:23, a passage she embodies: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”
That’s exactly what Moore is doing. Moore felt she couldn’t give equal attention to basketball and criminal justice reform, so she chose cause over sport. No other athlete in the modern era stepped away from their sport in the prime of their career (she’s 30) for altruistic reasons, to serve others. Not Michael Jordan. Not LeBron James. Not Barry Bonds. Not Tom Brady. She didn’t just write a check and show up for the ribbon cutting. She’s immersed in it.
And no other athlete takes such painstaking care to communicate as precisely as Moore does. Whether a public service announcement, a Lynx promotion or a one-on-one interview, nothing comes out of Moore’s mouth without careful consideration. You never really know an athlete, but I’ve never known Moore to lie. We can take her at her word.
Here’s what Moore told the AP last Monday, in a story not widely circulated in the Twin Cities, about her basketball future: “Definitely not thinking about it right now. There’s so much on my plate to prioritize. When I released the Player’s Tribune article I said I wanted to take a full year. I won’t be a pro basketball player for a year. Maybe sometime this spring I’ll figure out what’s next. For now, I’m trying to be in the moment. It’s a wild journey I’m on.”
We live in a country that demands our athletes perform well, win, and carry themselves nobly. When they fail, we pile on. Some athletes bring the ire on themselves — the drug cheats, the abusers of women. But often we’re so negative and critical that we never stop to appreciate the few truly good ones that pass in our midst.
Moore does everything we expect of our superstars, in every way. A few years ago, she stayed late after a practice at a local high school (this was before the Mayo Clinic Square practice facility opened) to meet with and sign autographs for a group of patient young girls. Moore said they reminded her of herself. It was genuine Maya, at her finest and most generous. She did things like this a lot.
Sure, the Lynx would love to have her back. Before taking her leave, Moore agreed to multi-year contract that kicks in when she returns — if she returns. WNBA Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier filled her small forward position, but fitting Moore back into a retooled Lynx roster is a problem Coach Cheryl Reeve would relish.
But if Moore needs more time to assist Irons, pursue deeper reform, or finds another cause that feeds her passion, good for her. We’ve seen her best. Not even Lindsay Whalen can match her legacy of success — four WNBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, two world championship golds, and two NCAA titles. In every calendar year from 2009 to 2017, with UConn, the Lynx or Team USA, Moore won a championship or a gold medal. In basketball, there’s nothing left for her to win or prove. She’s a Hall of Famer if she never plays another minute.
Athletic success gave Moore a platform and a megaphone that she’s using to help those in need. She did not stick to sports. Props to her. And if Moore ultimately chooses to devote her life to something besides basketball, let’s celebrate that too. There aren’t enough Maya Moores in the world, doing their work heartily, for the benefit of many.