Basketball Waits, Renee Montgomery Opts Out of Season for Social Justice

Renee Montgomery announced Thursday that she will not be playing in the WNBA in 2020, instead choosing to focus her time on social justice reform.

The Atlanta Dream guard has been vocal about social issues for a long time, and that has not changed in recent weeks during ongoing protests across the country against police brutality, racism and countless other causes. She has already been active on Twitter promoting the movement, raised money for Black Lives Matter and been seen out handing water to those taking to the streets, and Montgomery felt she would be of better use off the court this season.

Montgomery’s coach, Nicki Collen, told Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com that while her team will miss the guard, she supports the player’s decision.

“While I am saddened Renee will not be in a Dream uniform this summer, I am incredibly proud of her passion for her foundation, her outreach in the community and her chance to impact the Black Lives Matter movement with her platform as a WNBA athlete,” Collen said.

Renee Montgomery becomes the first WNBA player to say she will sit out the 2020 campaign after the league and union agreed to start the season in July at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, earlier this week. It is possible that more will come, though.

The conversation has been raging in the NBA, with a number of players coming out against the league’s restart plan. Kyrie Irving in particular came out strongly in opposition to the idea, telling Shams Charania in no uncertain terms.

That was at the start of the week, and some players have outwardly agreed with Irving since. There have been opponents to Irving’s stance, though. LeBron James is the biggest name, arguing that playing and putting a spotlight on social issues can be done at the same time. But Utah Jazz forward Ed Davis spoke for role players in his disagreement.

“It’s easy for guys like Kyrie to say that he’ll give everything back (for social reform), but would he really give everything back?” Davis told Hoopshype.com. “It’s easy for Dwight Howard to say that we don’t need to play when he’s in Atlanta in his $20 million mansion. But there are other guys on the rosters who need this money to provide for whoever they’re taking care of and things like that. It’s easy for superstars in the league to say this and how they feel about this and that. But it means a lot more when it comes from the role players and the guys that (aren’t stars).”

Whether or not this will become a debate in the WNBA is unknown. The league has a very different hierarchy than the NBA, but if it does turn into a two-sided argument, there are relative haves and have-nots who may see the necessity of playing differently.

Renee Montgomery is far from the only player from the W to have taken a stand the last few weeks, like Natasha Cloud’s piece in The Players’ Tribune titled “Your Silence Is a Knee on My Neck,” and there is precedent for WNBA players to walk away from the game to pursue social reform. In January, when the coronavirus and the current protests were not in the American picture, Maya Moore announced she would skip the 2020 season and Olympics to instead fight for wrongfully convicted people.

“There are seasons of life when you run harder after certain things than others,” Moore said to NBC News in September 2019. “And so, I felt like the season was coming for me where I needed to run harder after criminal justice reform.”

Merit can be found on both sides of the coin. The concern that the circus of sports will take away from the momentum of the current movement sweeping America and outside of its borders is legitimate. It is reasonable to believe the lack of sports-provided diversions have added to the fervor around protests and activism across the country, among other regular reality-distracters that coronavirus cancelled, and that coming back will play a role in changing the narrative away from what truly matters.

However, what better platform do athletes have than their courts and fields? That’s when they let their work do the talking, and that’s when they have the world’s eyes. Twitter and Instagram certainly have outreach, but nothing is more magnified than what happens in games. And the loss of potential wages would harm some players much more than others.

The great irony, though, is any arguing on the issue creates precisely what both parties wish to avoid: a distraction from the truly important issues.

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