MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As protests and demonstrations continue all across the United States following the death of George Floyd, Renee Montgomery has joined the sizable group of high-profile athletes taking action. The 2005 South Charleston High School graduate and 11-year WNBA veteran took a unique approach to help the city of Atlanta.
The ‘Renee Montgomery Foundation’ is supplying water in mass quantities to protesters in downtown Atlanta.
“Standing outside all day, you have to be thirsty. So I knew what I could do to have an impact, I could hand out water to the protesters and make sure everyone stays hydrated. As an athlete, that is a thing we make sure we do,” Montgomery said.
“We reached out to Defiance Fuel and they sent me ten cases right away and the rest was history.”
The foundation’s ‘GoFundMe’ page has raised nearly $6,000 in five days.
“You want to set goals that are so hard to achieve. So I set a high goal at $10,000 and the response has been crazy. We are well over halfway there. People really liked the practicality of it and protesters definitely need water especially here in Atlanta where the temperatures are 85-plus at times.
“I was nervous about going out there and handing out water at first because everything on the news you see is violent. You see it is about looting and it is about violence and brutality with the cops. When I went out there, I was shocked. It was the complete opposite.”
— Renee Montgomery (@itsreneem_) June 6, 2020
Montgomery says residents have appreciated her efforts and she has seen overwhelming positivity from the community.
“I am handing out water and these are nice water bottles. And people were saying they already had water but those people over there, they need water. People were looking out for each other. So for me, that’s when I knew I wanted to make it a thing and keep coming back. It was a sight to see where people were being humane and looking out for one another.”
Montgomery is part of an ever-increasing group of athletes devoting time and resources to social causes.
“I know at times, people don’t want athletes to be involved in anything other than sports but you have athletes that are crossing over now. We are allowed to show that we are like everyone else. A lot of times, people look at athletes in a different category. But we are hurting too. And it is nice to see that people are allowing athletes to be vulnerable and to speak out.”
Montgomery says the WNBA has been making more of an effort recently to support their players in speaking out on off-the-court issues.
“You see it with a lot of leagues. Even with the NFL you see Commissioner Roger Goodell issuing an apology. That’s a big deal where you had a player in Colin Kaepernick, who literally gave up his whole career for it.
“If the leagues are going to allow players to be more vocal about social issues and even go into the political realm, I do like the fact that leagues are giving us the opportunity and the platform to do it.”
Although Montgomery is entering just her third season with the Atlanta Dream, she has lived in the Atlanta Metro area for a decade.
“My second year in the league, I bought a house here in Georgia in Marietta. It just felt like home when I came here. When I am traveling around in the summer with the WNBA, every time I got to Atlanta I just had a good feeling about it. I knew that this must be where I wanted to call home.”
Like most major professional sports leagues, games in the WNBA are suspended due to the pandemic. The league is reportedly considering a single-site, 22-game season hosted in Florida.
“If I am being completely honest, sports has been on the back burner in my mind. I am so into the movement right now, I am so into the energy everyone is putting out there. I am so into being involved in this social movement that sports seems minimal.”
“Let’s Go Pro”
The Renee Montgomery Foundation has been involved in a number of charitable causes. That includes an annual event where Montgomery hosts a group and invites them to check out a Dream basketball game.
“I chartered a bus of sixty people from West Virginia, brought them to Atlanta and they stayed the night. The next day they went to my WNBA game. Then they drove back to West Virginia. So it was a quick little trip but it introduced people to women’s basketball.
“The things that I start to see in sports environments, I am trying to have events that give that to everyone.”
Entering season #11
After leading the University of Connecticut to a 39-0 record and a national championship in 2009, Montgomery was the fourth player selected in the WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx. She played one season with the Lynx before being traded to Connecticut. After a five-year run with the Sun, Montgomery was acquired by Seattle in 2015 but was traded in-season to Minnesota. She claimed a pair of league titles with the Lynx in 2015 and 2017.
Entering her eleventh season in the WNBA, Montgomery is the eighth-most tenured player in the league.
“I am typically one of the smallest players on the court. So I know I have a lot of things working against me. Because of that, I always try to do the little things that I can control. I am always going to be the energy person. I am always going to be positive. And I am always going to know my stuff. I may not make every shot and I may not make the right play, but I know that coaches like that I am prepared and they can count on me.”
From 2009-2018, Montgomery also competed internationally with teams in Lithuania, Israel, Hungary, Australia and Poland.
“Overseas you are expected to score a lot of points and you are expected to do a lot for the team. In that aspect, it is more difficult. They want you to come in and they want you to get twenty points and ten assists. If you don’t and they lose, they get really upset because it is your fault.
“When you come back to the WNBA, you are surrounded by college All-Americans and a high class of players for every position. You don’t necessarily have to carry as much of a load.”
Title run at South Charleston
Montgomery led South Charleston to Class AAA state championships in 2003 and 2004 and she was named the state player of the year in 2005. She teamed with fellow WNBA veteran Alexis Hornbuckle to form a formidable combo with the Black Eagles.
“There was a lot of talent around the league (MSAC) at that point. Nitro was tough. You had George Washington and there were a lot of teams.
“You look back and you see what Lex (Alexis Hornbuckle) ended up doing and what I ended up doing, people ask me, ‘I bet you all were killing everyone.’ And we weren’t. It was competitive.”
Montgomery was originally scheduled to be the graduation speaker at her alma mater of South Charleston this year before the pandemic altered the ceremony.
When Montgomery’s playing days are done, she plans to continue her work in the broadcast booth. She has called games and anchored studio shows on several networks, including ESPN and NBA TV. Montgomery was slated to cover the NBA G-League Finals and the Women’s NCAA tournament before those events were canceled this spring.
“It was a big blow for me for the pandemic, not only as a player but as a professional because I had a lot of things and I was getting a lot of momentum.”