If you were to tell Renee Montgomery in January that this year she would start racial justice initiatives, join a voting rights group, co-host a TMZ show, appear in countless media outlets, all while not playing basketball, she would call you a “troll.” At least, that’s what she called me when I asked the question.
“I would think you’re trolling me, because in January I had every intention of suiting up for the Atlanta Dream this season.”
But on June 18, amid a pandemic few expected, Montgomery opted out of the WNBA’s “bubble season.” She said her decision was influenced, in large part, by the police killing of George Floyd.
“I just feel the need to say something and do something,” she told Deadspin at the time.
Ten weeks later, we caught up with Montgomery, who is now focusing full-time on social and racial justice reform.
We spoke on the heels of a disastrous primary in Montgomery’s home state, Georgia, where long lines affected Black voters in the June primary. In Atlanta, specifically, some folks had to wait hours to cast their ballot.
Voting, Montgomery felt, was one of the ways she could get involved in issues of racial justice — but she didn’t know where to begin.
“When I [last] spoke to you, I didn’t exactly know where I was going with this,” she said. “But then when I had someone like LeBron and More Than A Vote come to me and, and bring me in the fold, it helped shape how I went about things.”
Montgomery is one of dozens of pro athletes at More Than A Vote who have pledged to fight against systemic voter suppression at the ballot box.
One of the proposals the group is pushing for is stadium voting, where arenas lend their spaces as a socially distant voting option for the public. State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta, for example, will serve as the largest voting precinct in Georgia. The former home of the Dream will hold early voting and be open on Election Day for Fulton County — Georgia’s most populous county, and home to a 44.5 percent Black population.
In addition to her work with More Than A Vote, she runs the Renee Montgomery Foundation, and plans to build a tech center at Morris Brown College, an HBCU. She has also started another voting initiative called Remember the 3rd.
“We have a lot of passion about everything going on right now. A lot of people are engaged. And I want people to remember that they have to take this energy and take it to the polls,” she said. Montgomery wants the initiative to “connect potential voters to how politics affects their everyday life.”
“Even having sports teams involved in polling,” she said, thinking about more ways to engage voters, “just makes sense.”
Montgomery decided to step away before the WNBA season began — and much has happened in the league since Deadspin first spoke to her.
In Atlanta, Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Dream co-owner, sent a letter to the WNBA urging the league to distance itself from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Montgomery sent a letter back to Loeffler imploring the senator to not be on the “wrong side of history.”
“With or without you,” she wrote, “we will continue this movement because it’s bigger than me or you.”
Montgomery also spoke with her teammates in the bubble about Loeffler’s comments. The players signed a statement in response to the owners comments and the rest of the league wore “Vote Warnock” T-shirts, urging WNBA viewers and Geogians to vote Loeffler out of office.
“It’s exciting to see that players are starting to find their voice,” the veteran guard said. “Not just my team, but around all league.”
During the bubble season, another Black man was shot by the police — this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Jacob Blake’s shooting sparked a strike across the sports world. In the WNBA, players locked arms in a show of solidarity and used their media platforms to talk about the shooting, protests, and voting.
Although out of the bubble, Montgomery feels “proud to be a part of the WNBA right now.”
And as far as actual basketball goes, Montgomery has her 2020 playoff predictions ready as the regular season wraps up.
“This season is so hard to predict for anyone just because there’s so much unpredictability happening right now,” she said.
But if she were to pick a team, she’d take the Storm. “I expect Seattle to be Seattle in a sense that they’ve been pretty dominant all season and going into the playoffs. I don’t expect them to be rattled by it being the playoffs because they have so much experience.”
Montgomery may not have anticipated any of this in January, but here she is. She’s doing what she believes in. And she has no regrets.