The latest league in professional sports in talks with players to begin a modified season is the WNBA. The latest iteration of a proposed season includes a condensed 22-game season with full salaries.
At the beginning of June, Mechelle Voepel of ESPN reported that the season would begin on July 24 and the games would be played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association Terri Jackson said, “No decisions have been made. Players are considering all their options.”
The state of the art basketball facility at IMG Academy houses four courts. This is where the league has proposed the 12 team-12 player teams congregate and play out the season. The season that typically would have begun on May 15th had been postposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Initially the league proposed that the players would only receive 60% of their salaries to which the players refused. Though a new labor agreement is in works that will improve WNBA players salaries, at present, at best, they receive around $120,000 per season. To get a better idea of how that compares to the salary of star NBA players, effectively top WNBA players are making around one-quarter of what a player of Lebron James’ status would make in one regular season game. Yes, the gender wage gap is very real and exists in all industries, but that’s another conversation. The revisions to the proposal include players receiving their full salaries with an opt-out option. Players who are considered high risk could opt-out and receive their full salary. The safety precautions they are planning to take include testing throughout the duration of the season, food per diems, accommodations for players with children that includes childcare, food, and additional testing.
While the players and the league are closing in on a deal, one WNBA star made it abundantly clear that she will not be returning for another season. Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore has thrown herself completely into the work of criminal justice reform. She sat out last season and announced back in January that she intended to sit out another season and miss out on a coveted Olympic roster position.
In an interview at the top of the year Moore said, “I’m in a really good place right now with my life, and I don’t want to change anything. 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.” The Jonathan she speaks of is Jonathan Irons, a 40-year-old man whose innocence she believes in. Irons is currently serving a 50-year sentence that he was convicted of at the age of 16 in 1997. Moore and Irons met in 2007 when she visited Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center.
Irons was charged and convicted of assault and burglary of a homeowner. The homeowner who suffered a headshot wound testified that Irons was guilty. It was on this testimony alone that Irons, who was tried as an adult at the age of 16 by an all-white jury, was found guilty.
There is no corroborating evidence, DNA or otherwise to connect Irons with the crime scene. No fingerprints or witnesses. The prosecutors claimed that Irons made an admission of guilt to the police officer that interrogated Irons. However the officers that interrogated him conveniently questioned a 16-year-old Irons alone and did not record the interrogation. Irons’ legal team vehemently denied all admission of guilt claims.
This is where Moore’s intervention has helped Irons’ case get the attention it needs. Moore, a Lynx forward, led the team to four championships over the course of her 8 years on the team. She has also earned two Olympic gold medals (2012, 2016) and prior to the WNBA, was a part of two undefeated UCONN championship teams. She is an accomplished and invaluable asset to the game of basketball and has now become the same off of the court.
The Lynx fully support her fight for social justice and the coach and general manager of the team said, “Over the last year we have been in frequent contact with Maya around the great work in criminal justice reform and ministry in which she is fully engaged. We are proud of the ways that Maya is advocating for justice and using her platform to impact social change.”
Moore spent the majority of her first year away from the team advocating for reform in the criminal justice system as it relates to minorities and those suffering socio-economically.
She said, “My decision to step away from the game of basketball is bigger than Jonathan’s case. And I’ve tried to communicate that from the beginning, when I made my announcement back in 2019. I really felt like I needed to shift my priorities to spend more time with family, to prioritize the ministry passions that I have at the forefront right now — and that’s criminal justice reform. I want to try to help people see some of the things that I’ve learned. Jonathan and I are both African Americans, but he comes from a socioeconomic situation that I don’t come from. I come from a pretty comfortable middle-class, single-parent home. I didn’t know about his life, and all these years later, it’s turned into this really inspiring story where we are really close to getting justice for him.”
She has graciously paid for the defense team that represents Irons and her advocacy ultimately led to Judge Daniel Green hearing testimony that could lead to an appeal. State prosecutors had long protested a review of Irons’ case. For the first time, not only did Judge Green listen to testimony for six hours, but after 16 years behind bars, Irons finally had his first opportunity to take the stand and tell his side of the story. Taking the witness stand to speak on his innocence or even be questioned was a luxury not afforded to him during his trial as a child.
Moore, who believes in Irons’ innocence and wants his conviction overturned, said, “We just have to keep being patient. And keep having faith.”
The goal is to see Irons freed and with Moore by his side advocating for him, he has a fighting chance. In March of 2020 due to lack of evidence, Judge Green ultimately overturned Irons’ conviction.
“[It] was just so satisfying to know that someone who has the power to do something about it actually took that step to do it,” Moore said in an interview one day after the decision. “So we were overjoyed, but also still sad because Jonathan is still in prison.”
Irons had to remain in prison while the Missouri Attorney General and County prosecutors made a decision about filing an appeal against the Judge’s order. Sadly, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt did appeal the decision so Irons remains in prison.
As it relates to her basketball career Moore expressed that she is grateful for the experience she’s had. “I have had such a unique experience in the game,” Moore explained. “I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times. There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”
When asked if she still wanted to play she said, “I don’t feel like this is the right time for me to retire. 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.”
Moore has also expressed, “I’m still in this, the second year away. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, and I am looking forward to actually getting some time to rest this last year. We’ve been grinding. But at the same time, I want to continue to tell Jonathan’s story and help him tell his story, because there’s so much more that people need to hear about. There are some things that I think can benefit us as a society to hear in Jonathan’s story and in his plight. So, helping people and giving people an opportunity to get involved is something that I care about and that I want to do. We’ll see what the future looks like.”