Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Maya Moore honors God as she fights for criminal justice while away from basketball

Maya Moore’s announcement in February 2019 that she would be missing the 2019 WNBA season instantaneously altered the power balance of the entire league, reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s first retirement in 1993.

Moore had seemingly stepped away from the game at the peak of her powers, 29 at the time, in the midst of one of the most accomplished careers in WNBA history. It was all to focus on “the people in my family, as well as on investing my time in some ministry dreams that have been stirring in my heart for many years,” she said.

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Moore will be sitting out the 2020 season as well, with much of her time for the past two years being dedicated to criminal justice reform. She has poured herself into the case of Jonathan Irons, a Missouri man convicted in 1998 of burglary and assault but whom Moore believes is innocent.

Moore’s friendship with Irons dates back to a visit she took to Jefferson City Correctional Center with her godfather in 2007, just before her star began to rise at the University of Connecticut.

As a recent ESPN article explains, Moore had been advocating for Irons quietly since that time. She remained publicly silent in her battle for years. Yet as she garnered international acclaim, by 2019, she felt like she couldn’t hide her passion for criminal justice reform any longer.

Since her shocking announcement, Moore has tirelessly worked for the freedom of Irons, often making trips from her Atlanta home to Jefferson City, Missouri, where she spent the first 11 years of her life. In a hearing this March, in which Moore was present, the court ruled that Irons’ due process rights were violated and a key piece of exonerating evidence was not presented.

Irons is still not yet free, awaiting a final resolution on whether his case will be re-tried. Still, Moore has not lost her resolve to fight for something even more important than basketball championships. She said it is her faith that sustains her in the tireless pursuit of justice.

“My faith is the core of who I am,” ESPN quoted Moore as saying in The Atlanta-Journal Constitution in 2010. “I feel like everything I do stems from that.”

Moore said she grew up attending church with her mother and other relatives. It was in middle school, as Moore dealt with the absence of her father, that God opened her eyes to the immeasurable love of her Heavenly Father.

“It hit me so hard when I was in middle school that God is my Father and He is my identity,” ESPN quoted Moore as saying on The Grove Podcast in 2019. “He is my security. He is what matters most about who I am. I’ve become such a believer in the beauty and power and need for fathers, especially Godly fathers.”

When, if ever, will Moore return to basketball and add to her staggering list of basketball accomplishments? And when, if ever, will she be satisfied with her work toward criminal justice reform? She may not even know.

“I have just been trying to take it one season at a time, one day at a time,” Moore said in the ESPN article. “This is a real-life situation. It’s not a cause to me as much as it is a real person’s story. I definitely see myself having purpose in this criminal justice space because, unfortunately, there’s so much work to be done.”

Through it all, Moore has been strengthened by her faith in Christ and a simple yet powerful Biblical mission.

“God says: ‘Mankind, God has given you one thing to do. Seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’ (paraphrase of Micah 6:8),” Moore told ESPN. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

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