Since the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, earlier this year, protesters have taken to the streets across the country to demand equal justice and police reform, as the Black Lives Matter Movement has captured the national attention.
The hiatus from professional sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic has offered many athletes an opportunity to engage in the movement in a way they never have before, as stars from the NBA, WNBA, NFL, and other leagues have joined protesters in their home cities and used their influence and their celebrity status to help spread awareness.
Some athletes have been entrenched in the battle for equal rights long before this year’s nationwide mobilization. WNBA star Maya Moore, for instance, sat out last season and the upcoming season in order to focus on the fight for criminal justice reform, and in March, she was able to help a man get his 50-year prison sentence overturned.
Jonathan Irons, who is now 40, has maintained his innocence on a burglary conviction that has imprisoned him since he was 18, and when he was finally released on Wednesday, Moore was there to greet him. Via Kurt Streeter of The New York Times:
Irons, 40, an African-American man convicted at age 18, was met by Moore and her family outside the Jefferson City Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison off a countryside thruway called No More Victims Road. Then Irons took his first steps into liberty as an adult.
It was the culmination of a yearslong effort by his supporters to win his freedom, a campaign that factored in a decision by Moore last year to forego playing in the W.N.B.A. at the peak of her success.
WNBA star Maya Moore sat out the entire season last year and helped overturn the conviction of Jonathan Irons, who was serving a 50-year prison sentence.
He was finally released today.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 2, 2020
Irons was convicted by an all-white jury, with testimony from only a single eyewitness — the victim — who didn’t initially identify him from a lineup, and no DNA, fingerprint, or blood analysis evidence. Irons’ conviction was overturned back in March, but he wasn’t freed from jail until Wednesday due to the lengthy appeals process to his sentence being overturned.
Moore, who met Irons prior to beginning her UConn career, first began to concentrate her efforts on the criminal justice reform in 2016, following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. She’s now missed two straight WNBA seasons, while still arguably in the prime of her career, and says she has no immediate plans to return to basketball.