WNBA icon Maya Moore is giving up basketball. The six-time ESPY award-winner is leaving the league to help fight wrongful prisoner convictions, NBC News reports.
Back in February, the small forward who is a four-time WNBA champion shocked the basketball world by announcing that she would sit out this season.
Moore, who was at the height of her career when she made the baffling announcement, stated that she wanted to prioritize things that were important to her. Criminal justice reform is on Moore’s list of important things.
“There are seasons of life when you run harder after certain things than others,” Moore told NBC News. “And so, I felt like the season was coming for me where I needed to run harder after criminal justice reform.”
Moore’s passion was ignited by a visit to a prison that took place over a decade ago. It was there that she met an inmate named Jonathon Irons. Moore’s godparents told the basketball star that they wanted her to meet someone [Irons] who they said was wrongfully convicted.
“Up until that point, I didn’t know anybody in prison, I wasn’t thinking about prison. It just wasn’t part of my story,” she said. Irons was arrested at the age of 16 and charged with a non-fatal shooting near St. Louis.
“There were so many things done wrong,” Moore said of his trial. “There was no physical evidence. No DNA, footprint, fingerprint. That began a journey for me of having my eyes opened to – oh my gosh, people are in prison who shouldn’t be there.”
A man had returned home to find someone in his closet. The intruder then shot the man twice but he survived. Irons was arrested and tried as an adult, which resulted in his conviction and sentencing of 50 years in prison.
Irons, who claims that he was at his friend’s house at the time of the crime, is currently in his fourth appeal and is advocating to have his case re-examined.
“I want the truth to be known,” Irons told Moore during the time they met. “That I’m innocent. I am not guilty of this.”As Maya Moore’s professional basketball career thrived, so did her friendship with Irons.
She stayed in touch with him via periodic phone calls and prison visits while her passion for fighting his cause also grew.
“Over ten thousand people may be wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. Every year. And I know one of them,” Moore said. “And so this one person now becomes an example of a bigger problem for me.”
Moore contributes to Irons’ defense attorney fees while he seeks to reopen his case and she also uses her platform to raise awareness of his case.
“She’s at the top of the mountain and taking a break to help me. I went from not having anybody to having an army and I feel like she’s at the head of that,” Irons said.
On October 9, Irons has his next hearing where a judge will review evidence necessary for proceeding with his appeal and Moore will in the courtroom to support him.
She isn’t sure how long she’ll stay away from basketball, which has been hard for the Minnesota Lynx player, but she said the reward is more than worth it.
“It’s one of the best feelings of giving somebody a voice,” Moore said. “Just one person. But then I realized, when I give Jonathan a voice, so many other people get a voice.”