Maya Moore is one of the greatest basketball players to ever take the court. She is a WNBA MVP, a four-time WNBA champion with the Minnesota Lynx, and a two-time gold medalist. Her latest project is taking on the issues of prosecutorial reform and mass incarceration. Here is an edited excerpt of an interview we did with her on the Edge of Sports podcast. Listen to the entire interview here.
Dave Zirin: When did you become aware that we have a serious problem in this country around mass incarceration?
Maya Moore: I think being in the African-American community, I have a built-in connection to issues facing black Americans. But it’s also being in the sports world today and being connected to people that are taking an interest in the issues that face minorities and people of color. It was also seeing the documentary 13th. That was a really powerful piece that just woke me up in a greater way. Some of the things I knew, some of the things I wasn’t aware of politically: the flow from slavery to today and just how [oppressive] laws continue to morph and how much further we still have to go.
DZ: One of the cases that you have been speaking out about is the case of Jonathan Irons. Talk about that case and why you believe it is emblematic of the broader need for reform.
MM: It really started with my great-uncle who had been doing prison ministry for close to 30 years. He became a mentor to this young man, Jonathan Irons, about 18 years ago.
Jonathan was a part of the choir program that my great-uncle was volunteering at, and he got to know this young man because he saw potential in him as a young leader and as a person. He starting mentoring him and my godparents, who are my extended cousins, started looking at his case and just really dove into his life in a way that was above and beyond the call of just being polite, and really felt a connection and compassion to help Jonathan, who didn’t have a lot of resources, to stand up and give him a voice to speak out against his wrongful conviction. The more we got to know him, the more outrage our family started to feel, especially seeing what an awesome person he is despite his circumstances and how he’s grown and the things he’s trying to do to fight for himself and continue to be a light where he is.
Jonathan was 16 years old, living on his own. He has kind of a typical story of growing up, not having a lot of money, not having his parents—he was raised by his grandmother, and by the time he was a young teen, getting caught up in the wrong things. Tired of being poor and scared and you get connected to gang life so he was living on his own. So obviously he’s not going to be a favorite person of law enforcement in his area.