June 19, 2020 

‘I want to be a catalyst’: Inside Renee Montgomery’s decision to sit out

Montgomery announced Thursday morning she was opting out of the 2020 WNBA season to focus on activism

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Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery (21) during the WNBA game between the Atlanta Dream and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on July 19, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Renee Montgomery doesn’t do anything halfway.

At practice, the Atlanta Dream guard is the first one on the court and usually one of the last ones off. In film sessions, she’s the one asking countless questions and making sure everyone on the team is on the same page. When she wants more energy in the room during practice, she’s the first one to get loud, challenge a teammate and make it happen.

When the West Virginia native decided she wanted to use her foundation to help people in her home state gain access to professional sports, she chartered a bus and brought 60 people to Atlanta for an overnight visit and gave them tickets to one of her Atlanta Dream games.

So, now that Montgomery feels a drive to use her platform to create change, she’s not going to do it halfway.

Thursday morning, she became the first WNBA player to announce their intention to opt out of the 2020 season.

“If I go into the bubble, we have three games a week,” Montgomery said Thursday. “I know how I am. There’s not going to be much time for anything else. I’m either all in or I’m not, so I don’t want to go into the bubble and be wishing I was out.”

Montgomery’s decision process started back on May 25 — the day George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. The WNBPA had yet to vote on a return to play plan for this season, but Montgomery started to feel called toward something bigger than basketball.

At protests in Atlanta, she passed out water, first on her own dime and then through her foundation. Montgomery’s GoFundMe has raised over $9000 and is still growing, and her plans have grown from handing out water at protests to feeding the Atlanta community in recognition of Juneteenth.

As Montgomery thought more about it, she knew where her heart lied. Basketball has been her life since she was 10 years old, but this is bigger than that.

Montgomery shared her initial feelings about the situation with Dream coach Nicki Collen on Monday, and Collen was instantly supportive. After speaking to Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma on Wednesday afternoon, Montgomery was sure of her decision.

Maya Moore, who was teammates with Montgomery at both Connecticut and with the Minnesota Lynx, has prominently chosen to opt out of playing in the WNBA to focus on advocacy for criminal justice reform. Before Moore made her decision, she spoke with Auriemma for advice.

So, when Montgomery talked to Auriemma earlier this week, he asked her the same questions he posed to Moore a year ago.

Would she be okay financially? Montgomery thought so.

Would she be okay with this impacting her future basketball career if people don’t understand? Again, Montgomery thought so, and the next morning she took her decision public.

“It’s very difficult, because I’ve played basketball literally my whole life,” Montgomery said. “Since I was 10, basketball was the thing I did. Everybody associates me with basketball. To give up that comfort zone of basketball, that’s scary. But in the same breath, I felt strongly enough that I knew whatever happens, this is the right decision for me.”

Both Collen and general manager Chris Sienko expressed firm support for Montgomery in statements released by the team, and Montgomery said she’s had nothing but positive responses from her teammates as well.

Players have until June 25 to notify their teams that they’ll be opting out, but Montgomery wanted to make her decision quickly to allow the Dream to figure out if they’ll be adding a player to the roster and work things out from a basketball logistics perspective.

“I didn’t know how [Collen] was going to take it, because that’s her job,” Montgomery said. “Her job is how well we do on the court. I called her to talk about something that’s not about basketball and her response was the best-case scenario. She was like, ‘Look, it sucks to not have you this season, but we support you all the way. I get it and let us know if we can do anything.’”

Because she made her decision relatively quickly, Montgomery doesn’t yet have a concrete plan for how she’ll use this time. But so far, she’s organized an event in downtown Atlanta to celebrate Juneteenth, is continuing to raise money to support protesters and plans to focus heavily on voter suppression in Georgia as we move toward an important election in November.

“I just feel like there’s a moment right now that I want t capitalize on in the sense of a lot of people want better,” Montgomery said. “A lot of companies are like, ‘How can we help?’ A lot of people are asking, ‘What can we do?’ They might not be asking those same questions in four months.

“For me, while they’re asking those questions, while the whole world is looking at that, I want to be a catalyst to keep it going.”

Written by Bailey Johnson

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