Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery said she was nervous Thursday morning before posting on Twitter that she would sit out the 2020 WNBA season to work on off-court initiatives such as the Black Lives Matter movement. She knew how passionate she felt about that commitment, but still, it meant losing a basketball season at age 33.
In the past few days, she talked to both her former college coach at UConn, Geno Auriemma, and her current coach with the Dream, Nicki Collen. Montgomery realized she knew what she wanted to do.
Montgomery is the first WNBA player to publicly say she won't play since Monday, when the league and the players' union announced they had an agreement on a proposal for the season to start in July in Florida.
After much thought, I've decided to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season. There's work to be done off the court in so many areas in our community. Social justice reform isn't going to happen overnight but I do feel that now is the time and Moments equal Momentum. Lets keep it going!— Renee Montgomery (@itsreneem_) June 18, 2020
"I really took a leap of faith," Montgomery said in a Zoom call Thursday afternoon. "I didn't have a specific plan, I just kind of knew that this is where my heart is, so let's see where it goes.
"It is very difficult, because I played basketball my whole life. Everybody has associated me with basketball. So to give up that comfort zone of basketball, yeah, that's scary. But in the same breath, I felt strongly enough that I knew whatever happens, this is the right decision for me."
Montgomery was the No. 4 draft pick out of UConn in 2009, when the Huskies won the NCAA title. She has played 11 WNBA seasons and averaged 9.7 points and 3.1 assists. She won championships with Minnesota in 2015 and 2017, and has played the past two seasons with the Dream, where she has started all 68 games and made 146 3-pointers.
The WNBA is scheduled to have a 22-game regular season followed by standard playoffs ending in October, with all teams and games in a controlled "bubble" environment in Bradenton, Florida. The Women's National Basketball Players Association voted on the league's proposal, which includes 100% of the players' salary, and 77% approved of it.
Montgomery said she expects other players will choose to skip the season, too, for various reasons. She said while she also would have had some concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, that in and of itself likely wouldn't have kept her from playing. But she said the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the subsequent protests and national conversations about race in America have consumed her.
Players have until June 25 to inform their teams if they are playing, but Montgomery said she wanted to let the Dream know of her decision as early as possible.
"While I am saddened Renee will not be in a Dream uniform this summer," Collen said in a statement, "I am incredibly proud of her passion for her foundation, her outreach in the community and her chance to impact the Black Lives Matter movement with her platform as a WNBA athlete."
Dream president and general manager Chris Sienko said, "We fully support Renee's off-the-court efforts and know that she can help facilitate change in Atlanta and around the globe."
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the WNBA is committed to amplifying players' messages about social justice issues this season. Montgomery said she fully supports her peers who opt to play, and that she has heard support from them for her, too.
"There's a moment right now that I want to capitalize on," she said. "A lot of companies are asking, 'How can we help people? 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 this, I want to be a catalyst to keep it going.
"I think there's multiple ways to go about this. This is my way. If I go into the bubble, we have three games a week. ... I know who 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 outside of it. And we don't have to be in the bubble all together to be united."
Montgomery, who is from St. Albans, West Virginia, has her own foundation and has raised money to help protesters and support the Black Lives Matter movement. She will continue that work and also do speaking engagements in the Atlanta community and beyond.
Players already have received two paychecks this season. Those who sit out for approved medical concerns will still get the rest of their salaries, but those who aren't playing due to other reasons won't.
Montgomery said Auriemma asked if she was OK financially to skip a season, and if she was prepared for some negative response from people outside of the WNBA. She said she wasn't worried about either thing. She also said Auriemma told her those were the same questions he had asked Montgomery's former college and pro teammate Maya Moore, who is sitting out her second consecutive WNBA season as she works to help overturn the conviction of a family friend. Montgomery praised Moore for her commitment.
Montgomery said she envisions a multiplatform approach for the issues she wants to address, including the voting problems that were in evidence in Atlanta recently with hourslong lines.
"Somebody asked me earlier like, are you scared or nervous about your future?" Montgomery said. "And I'm like, 'I probably should be, but I'm not.' That's just how I feel right now. I don't know what's gonna happen, but I just feel like something good is coming."