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Renee Montgomery wants to be “catalyst” for further social change in year off

The former UConn star announced she will sit out the 2020 season to push for social justice reform.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

On May 25, a video of a Minneapolis police officer holding his knee on a black man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which caused the man’s death — surfaced online. Quickly, the world learned the name George Floyd.

Renee Montgomery saw the video but couldn’t bear to watch the entire thing. However, as Floyd’s murder sparked protests across the nation, it sparked something inside her as well.

“When George Floyd got murdered, I think it woke America up. I think it woke the world up. You’ve seen protests all over the world,” she said. “So I think for me at that moment, you can’t ignore it anymore. You need to do something. So I think that moment, my heart went out to that.”

So on Thursday, Montgomery announced that she will opt out of the 2020 season in order to fight for social justice reform, the first player in the NBA and WNBA to do so in 2020. Where that takes her is the question.

Montgomery initially began helping by delivering water to protestors in Atlanta — an idea she came up with while watching the news on her couch. But from there, there’s nothing set in stone. Montgomery doesn’t have anything in particular in mind like Maya Moore did when she stepped away — though she did mention fighting voter suppression as one idea. Instead, the Atlanta Dream point guard simply wants to strike when the iron is hot and go wherever the movement does.

“I just feel like there’s a moment right now that I want to capitalize on in a 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 like ‘Okay, what can we do?’ They might not be asking those same questions in four months. So 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.”

However, it was far from an easy decision to make. Montgomery admitted it’s “scary” since all she knows is basketball and by giving that up, she’s leaving her comfort zone. She didn’t consult Moore — a close friend and former teammates in both college and the WBNA — about taking the year off from the sport. Instead, it was Geno Auriemma who unknowingly helped Montgomery solidify her decision.

“I talked to Coach Auriemma yesterday on (Instagram) Live...and he was saying the things that he was asking Mymy (Maya Moore) when she called him (about taking a year off),” Montgomery said.

Since she was already thinking about making a similar choice, Montgomery prodded Auriemma for those questions.

“He’s like “Would you be okay financially?’ So I’m like, yeah, I hope so. I don’t really care. ‘Do you understand it might affect your basketball career? People might not accept it well.’ So I’m like, I guess I could accept that. So he was going through all the things he asked her and I was answering the questions in my mind.”

Once she decided to opt out, it didn’t take long for her to feel gratified about her decision. After she announced the news on Twitter Thursday morning, Montgomery said the support she received from the Dream, fellow WNBA players and fans alike reassured her that this is the right course of action.

Before her first day away from basketball was even over, Montgomery declared it’s worth it.

“It already paid off,” she said. “I’ve been doing interviews on Yahoo, CNN, TMZ so the message is already getting out there. Any time I can create the conversation to keep the conversation going, that’s a win. If we’re still talking about this in November, I know that was great. Something great happened.”

Montgomery confirmed that her absence will only be for this season and that she plans to return in 2021. On top of that, the league’s plan to play a 22-game regular season along with playoffs in a bubble wasn’t the most enticing plan for a self-proclaimed germaphobe.

While that alone didn’t influence her decision, Montgomery said that she knew once the season started, there’d be little time for anything else outside of basketball. Because of that, she wanted to be all-in — one way or another.

So by putting basketball on hold for the year, Montgomery is seizing the chance for change. And she’s ready to get started.

“I think the pandemic gave me as much rest as I need. I’m ready to roll, I’m excited,” she said. “Somebody asked me earlier, ‘Are you scared or nervous about your future?’ I’m like, ‘I probably should be but I’m not.’ So that’s just how I feel right now. I really don’t know what’s going to happen in a month, month and a half. I just feel like something good is coming.

“I took a leap of faith. I didn’t have a specific plan, I just knew this is where my heart is so let’s see where it goes.”