What a courageous endeavor!
Former WNBA star Maya Moore sat out for the last two seasons to help free a wrongly accused Missouri man from prison, and now that man is free, ESPN reports.
Jonathan Irons was convicted for burglary and assault in 1998 at just 16-years-old. Being tried as an adult, Iron was sentenced to 50 years in jail. Moore, a Missouri native, met Irons her freshman year of college, visiting him in jail after learning about his case through her godfather Reggie Williams who was already fighting on Irons behalf.
Moore spoke previously about her commitment to Iron’s freedom, speaking about how the current state of the country eventually led her to examine her own ability to help exonerate someone she believed was innocent. In 2016, shortly after the police killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the former Minnesota Lynx player came together with her teammates and coaches to figure out how to honor Castile and Sterling on the court. The team chose t-shirts that read, “Change starts with us -- Justice & Accountability,” along with the names of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” and the Dallas police shield, to honor the victims of the July 2016 Dallas police shooting.
“If we take this time to see that this is a human issue and speak out together, we can greatly decrease fear and create change,” Moore told reporters at the time.
Following the Lynx public display of solidarity, other demonstrations began within the league, some players even being fined for breaching uniform guidelines. Less than a week later, the 2016 Espys were opened up by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony who spoke out against violence and encouraged other athletes to help create change. That summer, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, sparking a national conversation about police brutality.
Moore, a four-time WNBA champion, six-time WNBA All Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist never wore a shirt again, but something in her had already started to change. On February 5, 2019, she made an announcement that she would be sitting out the 2019 season “to focus on the people in [her] family, as well as on investing [her] time in some ministry dreams that [had] been stirring in [her] heart for many years.”
But before Moore could begin those dreams, she had to see Irons free. A latent fingerprint that was never given to Iron’s legal team was discovered by Williams in 2007 and for years he had been trying to get a judge to review that evidence. Finally, this past March, Judge Daniel Green did just that, granting Irons’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus and vacating his conviction. After several appeals and attempts to overturn Judge Green’s decision by the state of Missouri, Irons walked out of Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man.
Having served 22 years behind bars, maintaining his innocence the entire time, Irons thanked Moore and her family for their help in getting him released. “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 said.
When Irons walked out of prison, Moore dropped to her knees in an emotional moment caught on video. “In that moment, I really felt like I could rest. I’d been standing, and we’d been standing, for so long; and it was an unplanned moment where I just felt relief. It was kind of a worshipful moment, just dropping to my knees and just being so thankful that we made it,” Moore said.
Irons said he hopes that eventually he can reach back and help others the way people have helped him. “There’s a lot to adjust to out here, and I’m gonna take it slow...I want to be able to reach back and help other people. I want to advocate for people who are less fortunate. I want to help people with their cases,” said Irons.
Minnesota Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve expressed support and respect for Moore’s decision, saying, “Maya Moore got to celebrate another championship yesterday and none of us who have been blessed to have Maya in our lives are surprised. I cannot imagine, however, what this one must feel like. I was overwhelmed seeing Maya watch Jonathan Irons walk out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center a free man.”
The former WNBA star also sat out the 2020 season and has not yet communicated, if or when she’ll return, saying she just wants to rest and then see what the future holds. “I have just been trying to take it one season at a time, one day at a time. 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,” Moore previously told reporters.
Thank you for your sacrifice Maya!
Photo Courtesy of @mooremaya/Instagram