Why Dream’s Renee Montgomery opted out of season to fight for social justice

Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery explains how she arrived at decision to not play the 2020 WNBA season and focus on off-the-court issues, including racial injustice. (Courtesy of Atlanta Dream)

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Renee Montgomery watched as some people started to ask how they could help bring forth social justice and further equality.

That response, and receptiveness to change, is part of why the Dream guard decided to opt out of the coming WNBA season.

“I just feel like there’s a moment right now that I want to capitalize on in the sense of a lot of people want better, a lot of companies are like ‘How can we help?’” Montgomery said.

“A lot of people are like ‘OK, 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.”

Instead of playing with the Dream, Montgomery will dedicate this next year to fighting for social justice and trying to make a difference. She announced her decision Thursday morning via Twitter, but essentially made the decision May 25, the day of Floyd’s death, when she saw part of the video that went viral of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he cried out for air.

Montgomery couldn’t bring herself to watch the whole video, but seeing even a portion of the footage was enough.

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

On Monday, the WNBA announced its plans for the 2020 season, which had been delayed because of the coronavirus. Beginning in late July, each team will play 22 games in a bubble scenario, with training camp, practices and games contained to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Montgomery, who played for UCONN, plans to return to basketball after this year.

Her team has been supportive, including Dream coach Nicki Collen, who Montgomery called three days ago to discuss sitting out the coming season. At first, Montgomery wasn’t sure how Collen would receive the news, since her departure will impact the Dream’s season (the team is looking to bounce back after going 8-26 last season, and Montgomery is an experienced guard, averaging 9.5 points and 2.6 assists in 2019).

“I didn’t know how Coach was going to take it because that’s their job,” Montgomery said. “(Collen’s) job is how well we do on the court. So 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.’”

Montgomery has a nonprofit, the Renee Montgomery Foundation, that strives to "make a positive impact on the lives of both young and old through sports" and also grow women's sports. She's vocal about issues she cares about — through her foundation, she recently started raising money to help provide Atlanta protesters with water, and via Twitter she applauded NASCAR's decision to ban the confederate flag at races.

Moving forward, Montgomery isn't sure exactly what her next steps will be, though she's interested in one voting-rights group that LeBron James, Trae Young and Skylar Diggins-Smith are a part of, More Than Vote.

She hopes that companies and nonprofits will reach out to her as she formulates a plan.

“Since I said that this morning, I really took a leap of faith,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t have a specific plan, I just knew that this was where my heart is, so let’s see where it goes. And since then it’s been crazy, I’m not going to lie. Uninterrupted hit me up, and there’s the More Than a Vote campaign and there’s different things I want to be connected with, and that’s what I was telling people ‘Look, I just know that I want to create change.’ So if there’s businesses, other companies, other foundations doing things, I want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of wherever this movement is going, because it’s going somewhere good.”

Saying goodbye to basketball, even if it’s just for a year, is a challenge, since it’s such an integral part of her identity. But she knows it’s the right move for her.

“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. 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 for me.”