Maya Moore, who led her Minnesota Lynx team to four WNBA crowns, her University of Connecticut Huskies team to two NCAA titles, and her Team USA to two gold medals, is a champion on the court.
And now Moore's a champion in the court, too.
At least as far as her heroic role in the case of Jonathan Irons, an unjustly convicted Missouri man who on July 1 walked out of a penitentiary a free man after serving 23 years behind bars. Irons was just 18 when he was sentenced to 50 years for burglary and assault, crimes he unwaveringly denied.
Moore met him as part of a prison ministry program before her freshman year in college. She stayed close to Irons, and close to his case, and shocked the sports world by leaving the Lynx last year in part to pursue justice for Irons.
Moore, a former WNBA MVP, made a substantial sacrifice, forgoing a chance for another championship (and her salary) at the peak of her career. And she's indicated that she won't stop there.
In fact, she plans to continue to work for social justice, just as she and her Lynx teammates did in 2016, when they wore black T-shirts with the phrases "Change Starts with Us. Justice and Accountability" on the front. On the back were the words "Black Lives Matter" and the names of Philando Castile and Alton B. Sterling, who had been killed in officer-involved shootings, as well as an image of the Dallas police shield, reflecting the five officers killed in that city by a sniper.
Backlash ensued. But, Moore told the New York Times, "I'd found my voice."
Just as former quarterback Colin Kaepernick did. (He may find a team, too, now that the NFL has belatedly, but rightly, finally come to better understand the principle behind his protests against social injustice in America.)
NASCAR's Bubba Wallace found his voice, too, and responded gracefully, and gratefully, to his fellow drivers when they rallied around him after a noose was found in his garage. (An investigation revealed that the noose had been in the stall since 2019 — long before Wallace received the garage assignment. But the incident clearly was not a "HOAX," as President Donald Trump divisively described it on Twitter.)
Athletes finding their voice is a welcome development for society, and sport, and it shatters the stereotype of self-absorbed stars in the pro and college ranks. Sure, just like any cohort, there are problematic individuals, especially since so many are thrust into the spotlight at such a young age. But many more are what society urges them to be: role models.
And in the process of finding their voices, these athletes can inspire teammates, as well as others in society, to find theirs. Irons has set an example, recently telling the New York Times that "I hope to be an agent of positive change. I want encourage and inspire people and share my story with anyone who will listen."
Maya Moore listened and righted a wrong. That makes her a champion on and off the court.