The UConn women’s basketball team likes a good house party as much as anyone else, and they’ll often find their way to head coach Geno Auriemma’s home. One night a few years back, just days away from beginning a season in which they’d go 39-0 and win the national championship, the team gathered at Auriemma’s house.
The mood was light, even exuberant. A TV broadcast the initial returns of the presidential election. And as the night rolled on, player after player gathered around the TV, checking their phones, tracking the results as state after state rolled in. Shortly before 11 p.m. Eastern, the networks called it: Barack Obama had won the presidency of the United States.
“It became a celebration,” recalls Renee Montgomery, then a star guard on that UConn team. “For some of us, it was the first time we felt like we had an impact on a presidential election.”
Obama’s campaign slogan was “Yes We Can,” and that — along with Obama’s race and age — galvanized an entirely new generation of young activists, Montgomery included.
“That definitely gave me the bug,” she laughs.
A decade-plus later, Montgomery, a guard for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, is one of the most outspoken athletes in an era now defined by them. So committed to the cause of social justice that she opted out of this year’s WNBA season to focus on activism, she’s since turned her focus to voting. Through foundations, initiatives and the Yahoo Sports Voting Playbook, she’s fighting to promote a single, constant message: Get out and vote.
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
Montgomery was raised in what she laughs was a “run-of-the-mill, law-abiding” household in St. Albans, West Virginia, just outside Charleston. From a young age, though, she learned the importance of voting.
“It wasn’t even an option at my house. It was a rite of passage,” she says. “My parents, knowing their history, knowing how hard the fight was to vote, understood how important it was.”
She remembers being exceedingly nervous the first time she voted. “I had a temporary license at the time. I had lost mine. I was so scared I wasn’t going to be able to vote,” she laughs. “My parents told me, ‘Calm down, it’s going to be fine.’ And of course, it was.”
Since then, Montgomery has engaged with every single election, local and national — “I hope every election, I learn more and more” — and she’s on a mission to stress both the importance of voting and the direct impacts that voting can have on daily life.
“With what’s going on in this climate, kids not being able to go to school, the younger generation being affected, they’re realizing that voting does matter,” she says.
Montgomery’s league is among the most politically active of any sport. She’s participated in a range of WNBA social justice efforts, including 2018’s Rock the Vote initiative. Political and social justice messaging is everywhere in the WNBA, from the court to the sideline to the front office.
That activist background helped form the foundation of a grand social justice plan that Montgomery has pursued full-time since this summer. With the pandemic blanketing America and social justice activism raging, Montgomery decided to put her WNBA career — two-time champion, All-Star, Sixth Woman of the Year — on hold.
She’s had no shortage of causes since then. Her new home state of Georgia has been one of the nation’s hot spots both for racial protest and voting activism. Both the Dream’s current and former homes, McCamish Pavilion and State Farm Arena, will serve as polling locations this November. To aid in informing her community, she’s created the Remember the 3rd initiative, designed to get people to the polls.
For the next six weeks, Montgomery will push that message, with special emphasis on the ‘my vote doesn’t matter’ community. Montgomery is trying to get the message out: your voice matters.
“A lot of young kids don’t care about politics. They say, ‘When I get older, I’ll research it,’” she says. “We’re trying to make them understand the importance, the urgency of every election.”
How does she do that? By stressing that every voice is essential.
“We have to connect voting to everyday life,” she says. “Yes, you’re one person. But if you think there’s a problem, why would you not want your voice heard?”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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