Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery woke up nervous. She was about to send a tweet that would put her in the national spotlight and change the course of her athletic career.
“I pressed send on the tweet,” she told Deadspin, and “I was like, okay, so it’s done.”
The tweet read she would opt out of the 2020 WNBA season to focus on social justice.
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“What made me nervous was the conversations about [protesting], that the media and fans were having about players that would choose to sit out. This is not a topic that just came up just today,” she said. “I was nervous that people might not understand why I wanted to do this.”
Montgomery’s decision to sit out a season did not happen overnight. She began thinking about what to do on May 25, the day George Floyd was murdered by Minniapoils police.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” she said of the murder and the demonstrations that followed. “Everyone felt a call to action and it wasn’t just America, you saw protests all over the world.”
“I just feel the need to say something and do something,” she said. “I have nephews that are 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5. It’s scary for me when they get pulled over by the cops. So I feel like I’m speaking out as a protective aunt, sister, and mom.”
Montgomery’s mother, Bertlela, also played a part in influencing the basketball star. Bertlela taught as a professor for more than 30 years. She was an activist when she was in school and even organized a walk out as a student.
“Generationally, we’re experiencing the same thing,” Bertlela told her daughter. “But this time is very different.”
“That was the most impactful thing,” she told Deadspin.
The conversation motivated Renee to make sure she does whatever she needs to do to keep the momentum of social activism going.
As for specific social justice reforms, Montgomery wants to focus on voting rights in her home state, Georgia, first.
“We need to make sure that what happened [in the primary] doesn’t happen again.” Georgia has a history of voter discrimination, which was on full display last Tuesday. “People had to sit, bring chairs, wait five plus hours and, and some people left. That’s a problem. So I would think the first thing to really focus on is educating people on who your local politicians are, who to vote for and why you need to vote.”
Three days ago, Montgomery spoke to her coach, Nicki Collen, who supported Montgomery and her decision to step away from the court.
Just last week Montgomery was given another painful reminder about the need for her to act when Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was killed by police outside an Atlanta Wendy’s.
Without Montgomery, the Dream are still slated to play a 22-game season in a Florida bubble this summer. But she is not the first WNBA player to sit out for reasons pertaining to social justice.
Maya Moore, Montgomery’s teammate in college and the pros, took a two-year hiatus from basketball in her prime to advocate for the release of Johnathan Irons from prison. Moore believed Irons was falsely accused of burglary and assault. In March, Moore and her advocacy efforts helped overturn Iron’s prison conviction.
He left prison after serving 23 years behind bars.
“It’s exciting to know that there’s other athletes that feel the same way I do,” Montgomery said. “If we combine forces, I think that we can get a lot done.”
Montgomery’s stance also comes as NBA players, like Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard, question whether or not the NBA should return in the midst of social unrest.
“When I posted [the tweet] today there were other WNBA players who reached out. Big platforms have reached out to show support. So, to me, it really made me relax and know that I’m doing the right thing. Even if people didn’t support it, I still know in my heart, I am doing the right thing.”
And the right thing, according to Montgomery, can’t happen if she plays basketball this year.
“A lot of people wonder why I can’t do both. And if people can do both, that’s great. I just know myself. I’m an all in person. So I just want it to be all in right now social justice reform.”