Maya Moore Accepts Arthur Ashe Award for Her Work with Criminal Justice Reform at 2021 ESPY Awards

Maya Moore was joined at the event by her husband Jonathan Irons, for whom she put her basketball career on pause to help free from prison after a wrongful conviction

Maya Moore
Maya Moore. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty

Maya Moore is the 2021 recipient of the Arthur Ashe Award.

At this year's ESPY Awards, the WNBA star, 32, was presented with the prestigious honor by Robin Roberts on what would have been Ashe's 78th birthday.

To accept her award, Moore was escorted to the stage by her husband Jonathan Irons, whom she helped free from prison after he served 22 years on a wrongful conviction.

"Jonathan, I'm just so happy for you. Y'all, let's just say hallelujah, first of all, that Jonathan is sitting here right now," Moore began her speech. "I don't ever want that to get old, just the miracle of your life and who you are."

Moore continued by praising late tennis player Ashe, whom she said was "persistent in living out his passion for change," but noted that the aspect of courage in her own story that had been widely covered by the press — her stepping away from her career at its height — was not the one she wanted to focus on.

Maya Moore
Maya Moore and Jonathan Irons. Michael Loccisano/Getty

Instead, Moore said, she wanted to put her attention on "the courage it takes to love when it's hard."

She also called attention to Win with Justice, her social action platform, and highlighted various sacrifices, which she called "one of the most compelling aspects of sports."

"These sacrifices we make in sports are great, but I would invite you to see them as just pointers to the sacrifices of life that matter most, the ones that are centered around helping each other live to the fullest," she said. "Sacrificing the power you have to humanize someone else. Power is not meant to be gripped with a clenched fist or to be hoarded. But power is meant to be handled generously so we can thoughtfully empower one another to thrive in our communities for loves' sake, championing our humanity before our ambitions."

On the court, Moore has won four WNBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, a WNBA MVP award, and three All-Star MVPs, among other accolades. And off the court, she has raised awareness and brought national attention to criminal justice reform.

In 2019, Moore put her basketball career on pause to fight for prison reform and was specifically focused on the release of Irons, a man nine years her senior who was wrongly convicted of burglary and assault and sentenced to 50 years in prison. In 2007, Moore, who was 18 at the time, and Irons met through the prison ministry program and she helped bring awareness to his case, forming the Win with Justice campaign to educate the public on the power of prosecutors and organize for Irons' freedom.

When Irons was 16 years old, he was arrested for the nonfatal shooting of a white homeowner named Stanley Stotler during a burglary, despite the fact that no DNA, fingerprints, footprints, or any physical evidence ever linked him to the crime. He was wrongfully convicted by an all-white jury on burglary and assault charges in 1998, though the judge who later vacated his conviction said there was a series of problems with how the case was handled.

In March 2020, Moore helped Irons get exonerated and he was released from prison that July after serving two decades behind bars. Hours after he was freed, he asked Moore to marry him. They announced their union in September 2020.

The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage recognizes those who find ways through sports to make a difference far beyond the field of play and impact the world in indelible ways. Previous recipients include Muhammad Ali, Zaevion Dobson, Caitlyn Jenner, Billie Jean King, Nelson Mandela, Pat Summitt and Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah.

The 2021 ESPY Awards, hosted by Anthony Mackie, were broadcast live on ABC from The Rooftop at Pier 17 at the Seaport in New York City on Saturday.

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