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How Maya Moore Is Transforming Player Activism

Mystics center Tina Charles honors her former UConn and Team USA teammate, who received Sports Illustrated's 2020 Inspiration of the Year award.

I can write a soliloquy about Maya Moore’s accomplishments on the court and the brilliance I witnessed when playing alongside her at UConn and the Olympics—and I’d be writing about it all day. She’ll go down as one of the greatest to ever lace ’em up, but Maya’s truest impact has been off the court.

I’ve come to the conclusion that real success is becoming the person God intended for you to become and doing the work he set aside for you to do. If there is one person I know who has sought to accomplish this each and every day, before anything else, it’s my friend and former teammate.

Let me take you back.

Maya and I played together for three years at UConn, and I lived with her for two out of the three. There are many long-lasting stories that we reminisce on to this day, but one particular memory that I have was my first time doing an autograph session with her after our home opener in October 2007 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. We were paired together at a table, and Maya was the first to be greeted by our fans. I assumed it would be like any other signing that I’ve done with a teammate, that we would be done in 15 to 20 minutes. WRONG! We signed for at least an hour and half. I couldn’t figure out what the holdup was—Maya’s name isn’t one of the longest—but then as she passed the memorabilia to me I started to notice her signature and then the scripture Col 3:23.

Following our signing, I decided to look up the verse. It read, “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men, for it is the Lord Jesus Christ you are serving.” For the next three years and in our professional careers, there wasn’t a Maya Moore signature that did not have Col 3:23, which defines everything that anyone needs to know about Maya.

The consistency that I witnessed from Maya that day set the tone for me to truly acknowledge and understand her approach in life and basketball. People say, “Big things happen when you consistently do the little things.” That’s been Maya, since Day One: very consistent, meticulous, observant, disciplined and mature.

Her actions have always started with the question, “How does God receive the glory doing this?” This has preceded her actions since she was a young child and is something that I eventually picked up from her in my own journey to know God.

Let’s go back to July 2016, following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—both Black men fatally shot by police officers. Maya and her teammates, including fellow captains Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson, voiced their support for change. They wore black warm-up shirts that read on the front, “CHANGE STARTS WITH US. JUSTICE & ACCOUNTABILITY.” The back of the shirts bore Sterling’s and Castile’s names. Before the game Maya spoke, and I will never forget what she said: “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.”

TOGETHER. WE. HUMAN ISSUE.

Maya and three other Minnesota Lynx players stand wearing black shirts that say Change starts with us

Maya Moore and her Lynx cocaptains were on the forefront of player activism, not just in the WNBA, but across all leagues.

All words of selflessness. Never, whether in the act of service or struggle, is there a sense of individualism when it comes to Maya.

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The Lynx and Maya’s leadership gave other players around the league, including myself, confidence to not only do the same, but even more that year to speak up for Black lives. Their courage led to the WNBA becoming one of professional sports leagues’ trailblazers for social justice. Madison Square Garden is one of the greatest epicenters for entertainment in the world, and, beginning with that night, while playing for the Liberty, we refused to entertain without our voices being heard first.

The fight continues. After seeing what the WNBA and the players have done this past season in partnering with the African American Policy Forum and supporting the Say Her Name campaign to ensure that Black women’s deaths are indeed a part of the national conversation, we now have the courage to continue in our efforts to enforce real everlasting change. To be the voice for the cry of the oppressed is one thing, but to enforce change through legislation and socioeconomic structural transformation is a sign of where things are going now. The changes and the courage that follows are the new norm, and Maya played a pivotal role in that.

Late in January 2019, while visiting Atlanta, there presented an opportune time for me to reach out and link up with Maya. I did, and we connected. If anyone knows Maya, getting a call, text or any form of response is an accomplishment in itself. We were at her home and she sat me down and let me know her mindset about the upcoming season. She was preparing her announcement through The Players’ Tribune and explained to me that God put it on her heart to focus on ministry and the service of others. A week later, she let the world know.

Tina Charles and Maya Moore laugh with UConn teammates

Before their WNBA careers took off, Tina Charles and Maya Moore were teammates at UConn for three years.

When she announced that she would take the season off, she didn’t overly explain. She vaguely spoke about basketball. She barely spoke about the specifics of her plan. Anyone who read her announcement knew only that she was on a mission of purpose rooted in ministry, seeking Jesus and making Jesus known.

We later learned that Maya was led to focus on change within the criminal justice system through her longtime support of Jonathan Irons. Earlier this year, after Maya sat out a second season, her work led to the overturning of a 22-year-old wrongful conviction. Jonathan, a Black man convicted at age 18 of burglary and assault, went on to marry Maya this year after he left prison a free man.

Long before there was victory, there was faith. Throughout the time of Jonathan’s appeal, I and others received uplifting voice notes from Maya that included updates on the process. She considered us her “Prayer Warriors.” Regardless of the trials and tribulations, her voice never sounded deflated, never sounded defeated, just full of unwavering faith and focus on the goal and what God had called her to do.

So, through Col 3:23, the message I’m trying to deliver to the youth through celebrating Maya is that it’s bigger than yourself. Whatever your gift is, it’s not about you reaping what comes from that gift. It’s using that gift and being a vessel to serve others. That’s always been Maya, a servant first, one who worshipped Him and carried out His will.

What if Maya had used her gift solely for herself? What would happen to Jonathan and the fruit that will grow from that tree? The legislation change it could lead to, the precedents it could create in the criminal justice system or the future activism it could inspire?

Inspiration, traditionally, is the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative or suddenly brilliant. In Maya’s case, I challenge that. It’s not mental stimulation. It’s divine stimulation.

When I’m asked whether Maya will come back and resume her illustrious career and win more titles, MVPs and gold medals, or whether she’ll continue the activism work that is as notable as her playing career, my response is what it always has been, and Maya lives by it. If it’s in God’s will.

Congratulations to the 2020 Inspiration of the Year Award Winner, my dear friend and sister in Christ, Maya Moore.