Maya Moore And The Athletes Actually Making This Country Great

Gabe Zaldivar

Be more like Maya Moore, America.

The WNBA star stopped her career last year to help a man she felt was wrongly imprisoned. That man, Jonathan Irons, was released from incarceration on Wednesday.

Be more like Maya Moore, America.

Humanity is certainly amazing when it allows itself to be human. But so often we’re preoccupied with what is good for us and not what’s good for our fellow man or woman. Look around and you’ll spot the light poking through the dark, athletes trying to make this country better.

It’s been a rough few months.

This Fourth will be a little quieter, a little lonelier. It will still have fireworks. Most have been going off since June, to be honest.

And while it’s hard to find the bright spots in a year that has been absolute trash, there’s plenty to celebrate.

If you sift through presidential tweets and toss out the hot takes from talking heads looking to suck you in for ratings, you’ll find the Americans making this country better one act of kindness at a time.

This is a holiday when we celebrate our country’s origins, its infancy. But what have any of us done to make this nation significantly better?

Maya Moore

Jonathan Irons finally walked out of the Missouri penitentiary on Wednesday, a walk that was over two decades in the making.

“I feel like I can live life now,” Irons said, via the New York Times. “I’m free, I’m blessed, I just want to live my life worthy of God’s help and influence. I thank everybody who supported me — Maya (Moore) and her family.”

Moore met Irons in 2007 while she was with a prison ministry and the two hit it off, eventually creating what the Times described as a sibling-like relationship.

As the years continued, Irons remained in prison, fighting a conviction for a crime he so adamantly denied committing that he vowed to never agree to parole as it “would require him to admit guilt when he had done nothing wrong,” according to the Times.

In 2019, Moore gave up a career that was comfortably in its prime. The four-time WNBA champion and league MVP called it quits.

The pull to pursue “ministry dreams that have been stirring in my heart for many years” was just too strong to ignore.

She paused basketball and pursued her passion to help her fellow human, giving up the spotlight and all the glory that comes with it.

When you see her sink to her knees upon seeing Irons leave prison, you get why she did it. It’s clear the kind of person Moore is; the lengths she will go to to right an injustice are now obvious.

LeBron James

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar could take the easy road and shut up and dribble. Others have come before him and excelled at the sport and used their fame not as a platform to invoke social change but rather as a pedestal to enhance their own personal brand.

That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that in the least. Nobody has to work for change.

It’s also precisely the reason it’s so remarkable when you see it happen.

James is as outspoken as he is gifted, taking whatever social media platform he has to sound off on the latest injustice and make his opinion heard, knowing well how it resonates across this nation.

James, along with several prominent athletes such as Trae Young, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jalen Rose, launched an organization called More Than a Vote.

“Because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us — we feel like we’re finally getting a foot in the door,” James recently told the New York Times. “How long is up to us. We don’t know. But we feel like we’re getting some ears and some attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”

More Than a Vote is dedicated to empowering African-American communities by working to register them to vote.

Part of giving these communities a greater voice in this democracy is dismantling any attempt at suppressing that voice.

“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” James continued. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.”

Every voice that wants to be heard needs to have that opportunity. LeBron is working hard to make sure that happens.

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird

When it comes to platform, there is perhaps none more visible than that of WNBA star Sue Bird and partner and USWNT star Megan Rapinoe.

Both have long been dedicated to using their status to fight, whether that be for a historic WNBA collective bargaining agreement, equal pay for athletes who represent their country, or simply and profoundly taking a stand by taking a knee.

The two most recently co-hosted the 2020 ESPYS and sat down with ESPN to discuss a great many things, including their roles as white athletes.

“In some ways, we're here to help teach white people,” Bird said. “We do have a certain level of experience. We don't know everything, and we're also continuing our own education because that's really important…but I think it's a great opportunity for us to have that empathy but also to help other white people. That's really a place where we can have a huge impact and where it's really needed. And then, of course, with our platform, we can speak to so many different people.”

Bird went on to say it’s important to not just be an ally in a movement that fights social and racial injustice but to make the term ally a verb, putting thoughts and empathy into motion and continuing the momentum.

Rapinoe is just as adamant to help the cause and is just as passionate about being an advocate where needed.

“Obviously we're athletes, we have a platform,” she told ESPN. “We should use that to the best of our ability and at the same time share that platform with other people who are doing all of the work all of the time—the activists on the ground, the educators, you know, especially women of color and queer women of color are often left out of the conversation.”

Rapinoe goes on to champion the importance of sitting back and listening, which can be a powerful thing as it affords voices that need to be heard the platform needed to effect change.

“That's listening to people like Colin Kaepernick,” Rapinoe said. “Hearing him speak was actually all I needed in order for me to take that knee with him.”

Colin Kaepernick

Which brings us to Kaep, a man four years ahead of his time. Public sentiment to the Black Lives Matter movement has finally come around to the notion that, yeah, black lives do matter.

America is also more accepting of an athlete taking a solemn knee to peacefully protest.

But Kaepernick is still without a job.

He last played when he was 29, effectively giving up his prime years to a single hope. Maybe, just maybe if I kneel it will spark a conversation.

Now 32, Kaepernick relinquished a few years of potential glory and a fat salary to fill the coffers of retirement.

Had he stood the last few months would be without its beacon, without its American hero showing what you can accomplish by the simple act of kneeling.

The country still has brave people willing to do the right thing. While most of us are more willing to cause a stir on social media if it garners reads, Kaepernick decided to reflect and take a knee, knowing that it might be the end of his career.

He started a conversation, one that was one-sided and heated in 2016 but evolved and became a movement that continues to enact meaningful change.

America has never been great, not for everyone. What it has been is a nation founded on a promise, that it can be great through tireless effort, understanding and empathy. It’s a working document, not complete until the final page is written.

This country hasn’t been endowed like royalty to be the embodiment of all that is good. What it has going for it are its millions of faces and its equally abundant stories. Each one equally moving, each one equally powerful, each one deserving to be heard.

We are now moving in a direction of greatness. 

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Maya Moore is an inspiration!