Renee Montgomery, guard for the UCONN Women’s Basketball Champs on talks to the crowd at a homecoming rally held at Bradley Airport on April 8, 2009 in CT. – WINDSOR LOCKS, CT – APRIL 8 (Shutterstock)
By Renee Montgomery, The Players Tribune
You ever think about how history repeats itself?
I called my mom a few weeks back, which is what you do when something’s happening and you’re freaking out. There were riots in Buckhead, and they were getting very close to where I live. Up in my apartment, I had a bird’s-eye view of what was going on.
A whole bunch of emotions were running through me. I felt empowered, I felt nervous. I didn’t know what to do, so I called my mom — I call her my snook.
My mom lived in Detroit during the riots in the summer of 1967. When I got her on the phone, me and my snook had a whole conversation about how crazy it is that it’s about to be summer 2020, and I’m living in Atlanta going through the exact same thing that she had gone through.
My snook put it to me like this: “This is what people do when they don’t feel heard.”
That’s basically a paraphrase of that famous Martin Luther King quote. But she added something else that I’ll never forget. I was standing in my room, looking down at the crowd of people closing in, when my mother said something that made the hairs stand up on my arms: “If you can’t make your voice heard, you’re gonna make it felt.”
She was right.
So, I need y’all to do more than just hear me right now. I need y’all to FEEL me.
I need y’all to do more than just hear me right now. I need y’all to FEEL me.
That’s why I gotta keep it real.
You’ve probably already heard that when the WNBA comes back, I won’t be there.
When George Floyd got murdered, it was very difficult to handle. To see a man just broken down that badly. He knew he was passing away. And talking to my mom and hearing all of the different things that she’s experienced in her life really crystallized for me that this is a generational problem.
I think the young people, we’re outraged because stories that our parents told us are now happening in our lifetime. And we SHOULD be outraged. I’m outraged.
All it takes is a single moment, a single choice to create momentum. All you need is a second to change everything. And suddenly, I just find myself standing in this moment.
If I go into the WNBA season, I know I won’t be able to give 100%, and that’s not fair to my coaches and teammates. And I also know that if I did go into the “bubble,” who knows what it’s gonna look like in four months, as far as the movement is concerned?
For me, I just want to make sure that I’m fuelling the movement and being a part of it.
Listen, I know it sounds crazy. Even as I’m writing this, I’m like, Did I really just opt out of the 2020 WNBA season?
I’m honestly just as shocked as everyone else.
I grew up in Saint Albans, West Virginia, pretty much surrounded by people who didn’t look like me.
My parents met at West Virginia State University, a historically black college. My sister went to that same HBCU. There’s a culture that comes with an HBCU. There are homecomings, there are fraternities, sororities. So I grew up very heavy in the black culture, just because of that. I grew up being very educated in that aspect.
But that didn’t protect me from the loneliness of being a black kid at an all-white school. I used to dread Black History Month because I was the only black kid in class. A young me was almost embarrassed. Not embarrassed to be black — I was embarrassed to be the only black kid when the whole topic was about me. It was a difficult time that allowed me to see myself through other people’s eyes.
When I got to UConn, I knew how to navigate all-white spaces, because I had been immersed in that culture already. It wasn’t really ’til I got to Atlanta, that that changed. It was one of the first times that I was surrounded by people who looked like me.
Some of the most successful people here in Atlanta are black. A lot of the business owners here are black business owners, black female business owners. And I mean at a high level. They’re running Fortune 500 companies.
I started to look around, and what I saw was really empowering. Just being here and seeing all that black POWER has been a tremendous help in me finding my voice.
Look, basketball is all I’ve known. I been playing basketball since I was 10, AAU days, all day in the gym.
That’s all I’ve ever known.
That’s how important this is to me. My parents are really giving me a lot of strength and courage in this moment. They were asking me all the parent questions (“Are you sure? Are you gonna be O.K.?”), but they are so proud.
They understand the sacrifice.
I talked to Coach Auriemma yesterday. He’s like another father figure to me, and he was asking me the same kind of dad questions:
“Do you understand what that might mean for you?”
“Do you understand basketballwise what that might mean for you?”
“Careerwise what that might mean for you?”
He told me that these were the same questions he had asked Maya Moore before she was making her decision to do the same thing I’m doing now. I honestly didn’t even think about it, but I guess I’m joining her team.
That conversation with Coach Ariemma confirmed in my mind that, Yeah, I want to do this.
So, I got in front of my computer, and I pulled the trigger.
And the positive responses I’ve gotten have been overwhelming. That made me feel even more like this was the right thing to do.
My teammates were all saying how they were so proud. They were like, “We’re gonna hold it down at the single site for you!” (We hate calling it “the bubble”). We gotchu!!
And I told them, “Pop all those other teams’ bubbles that think they’re coming in to win a championship.”
This is not a breakup from basketball. Don’t think I won’t be back. I’m still rooting for the Dream, I’m still rooting for my teammates. I’m still going to be attached to the WNBA.
My heart is just telling me that I have a different mission right now that I have to see through, wherever that leads me.
There’s no right answer for any of this. When people are trying to make change, you can go about it many different ways.
This is not a breakup from basketball. Don’t think I won’t be back.
Some people will say, Well, can’t you use your platform even more if you play ball this year?
Sure, that is an option. I think that LeBron can go to Orlando and make a lot of noise. I mean, LeBron can do anything from anywhere. He’s not wrong when he says that he will have a greater impact on the black community through the game.
On the flip side, an NBA or WNBA player who wants to sit out and be hands-on and be in their community — they’re not wrong either.
I think there’s no right answer. There’s no one way to do this.
I don’t really know what’s going to happen. But there is something deep inside of me that’s giving me a lot of courage in this moment.
Some might call it ignorant optimism.
But to me, it feels like HOPE.
I want to look back 10 years from now and think, Yeah, 2020 might have been one of the worst years ever, in a lot of ways — but it also turned out to be one of the most profound years of our lifetime. That was the year when everything shifted.
People sometimes say you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. Maybe we have already taken our step back with the pandemic and with the killing of George Floyd, and now it’s time to propel ourselves forward — further than where we started.
I’m doing this for my nephews. I have nephews that are 21, 18, 17 — they’re 6′ 4″, 6′ 5″, and some people are going to see them as a threat. If they get pulled over, no one’s going to care about no WNBA relative or anything like that. Either of them could be the next hashtag.
I’m standing up now so that we don’t have another hashtag.
When I was down at the protests handing out water bottles to the other protesters at Centennial Park, the humanity of it all CHANGED me.
Watching how people have changed, has changed me.
I’m standing up now so that we don’t have another hashtag.
I didn’t know everyone at the protests, but just seeing how everyone was thinking about each other like, That group over there needs water! Or, There are older people over there that might need water! Every day they’re out there at Centennial. And I love it. Sometimes I even just drive by just to see it with my own eyes. I’m so proud of them. That’s another level of just dedication — being there every day. They’re not doing it for the fanfare, they’re not doing it for anything else but justice and freedom.
I just could see everything so clearly. People want to do better. People want to BE better.
People want to have a better Atlanta. And a better America.
You can’t plan for this kind of MOVEMENT that’s happening right now. You can’t stage it. And you can’t ignore it.
It’s so loud right now, that it can’t be ignored.
And that’s what’s pulling me toward it. I feel the need to be a part of it.
After I’m done dribbling, I’m gonna be living in Atlanta, and I would love to be a part of the rebuild.
Getting connected to the community is my first goal, my first priority.
Everything now feels like it’s building up to November, but that’s just one stop. And the fact that Juneteenth is finally being recognized — the day when the last slaves in Texas learned of their freedom that had come two years earlier — that’s just one stop.
Let me tell you something: Juneteenth is just the beginning.
And we’re gonna keep it going, through November and on and on. There is no grand finale.
And I know people are like, vote, vote, vote, almost like a broken record. But we DO have to focus on November right now because you know what? Voter suppression in Georgia is really bad. Trying to suppress the black vote, you know, there’s a word for that. It’s called disenfranchisement.
And you know how that came about?
It was just another way to keep black people down after slavery ended.
That’s just another way to keep YOU from your freedom!!
We can’t have that. So, people might be tired of that talk and think that voting isn’t enough, but we gotta start there.
We gotta be LOUD before November, especially here in Georgia, and that’s gonna take work.
The work everyone’s been talking about? This is the work.
And I’m ready for it.