Renee Montgomery selected to the 2020 WNBA season to work on social justice reform
Nothing is more important in basketball than a championship series.
But seven months ago, Renee Montgomery realized that some things are more important than basketball. In fact, there are some things she would even give up championship medals for.
Montgomery is part of the growing social justice movement within the American WNBA. A month after George Floyd’s death in police custody, she added his name to the list of players taking a career break to pursue other causes.
The latest win for the 34-year-old two-time WNBA champion goes straight to the top of American politics. She is partly responsible for Rafael Warnock’s successful and decisive campaign in the Georgia Senate. Warnock, a Baptist minister, became the first black senator from Georgia – a slave state during the American Civil War – and only the 11th black member of the Senate in U.S. history.
Outgoing Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, whose defeat to Democrat Warnock was certified on Thursday, is co-owner of the former Montgomery site of the Atlanta Dream.
When Loeffler asked the league to abandon divisive political movements like Black Lives Matter, some players decided to step up.
They wanted to eliminate her as the owner of the team and then they wanted to remove her from the Senate.
Players wore Vote Warnock T-shirts to the games and raised more than $200,000 (£150,000) for the candidate in just three days, according to his campaign, as polls showed growing support for the politician.
WNBA players, like Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird, wore t-shirts showing their support for Senate candidate Rafael Warnock.
Loeffler’s defeat by Warnock, along with the Democratic victory by John Ossoff, gave President-elect Joe Biden control of the party in the Senate.
With such important implications, it’s not surprising that Montgomery considers his work more important than championship medals. If she had to choose between sporting success and political change, what would it be?
What’s happening now is so much more important than sport that it’s hard to compare because what’s happening now will go down in the history books, she told Sport.
I think I’m going to follow the history books. I think people will forget about this championship ball.
I think they will forget everything behind me, but I don’t think the world will forget what is happening now.
For any employee, the prospect of getting to know their boss is frightening, and Montgomery acknowledges that such rebellion was not a given.
The former WNBA star added that politics is not a field she is comfortable with and she reads and studies to learn about it, but her desire to make her mark on history has taken precedence over everything else.
When moments of this magnitude occur, don’t worry about ruffling feathers, she explained.
It was scary. I’m not gonna lie. It hasn’t been easy. I like it when things go well.
I like to keep it on track and keep it simple, so it was hard for me to make much of a fuss.
I love being a part of positivity and things like that, but sometimes I really have to push myself.
She was against her support for Black Lives Matter, but she says she’s happy to talk to those who will listen.
I like it when people want to know, and these uncomfortable conversations are sometimes necessary, she said.
If someone wants it, you can’t force it on anyone.
Montgomery’s activism is reflected in the NBA and prompted President Trump to withdraw the White House invitation to championship teams during his presidency.
And basketball legend LeBron James showed his support for Montgomery’s work by tweeting Tuesday that he thinks he’s creating an outside connection for the teams.
Comedian Kevin Hart also supports James’ idea, and Montgomery said the support of male stars gives her hope for the future of women’s basketball.
She said we are a growing league. And we are growing at a rapid pace. The audience has grown.
I’m thinking about what names like this could mean for our league. I don’t just want to see the Atlanta Dream, I want to see the WNBA.
You know there are a lot of people investing in men’s sports, I’d like to see people do the same for women’s sports.
Despite Wednesday’s unrest on Capitol Hill, Montgomery remains optimistic for the future because, she said, democracy has won.
She knows things won’t change overnight, but she believes the election results, particularly the fact that Kamala Harris is the first woman and the first black and Asian-American woman elected vice president, can bring a different perspective.
Montgomery is proud of all she has accomplished, and it is not yet certain that she will be back on the basketball court for the 2021 WNBA season.
Having played such a pivotal role in the history of her state, and by extension her country, can she return to a life where the biggest stakes are the outcome of a league game?
Because the Senate victory is so recent, Ms. Montgomery hasn’t had much time to think about it and, understandably, she says she’s still thinking about it.