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Agents of Impact: Professional basketball players. The women and the men.

ImpactAlpha, Aug. 28 – When the lineup of the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court on Wednesday, the players didn’t realize they’d be joined by the rest of the NBA. And then the WNBA. And then professional leagues from baseball to soccer to tennis.

The sports world’s bottom-up, wildcat strike followed the police shooting of another Black man, this time in Kenosha, Wisc., 40 miles south of Milwaukee. With Jacob Blake’s name going virtually unmentioned at this week’s Republican National Convention, the young men and women of the NBA and WNBA are filling a leadership gap.

“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices in our African American communities,” the Milwaukee Bucks’ Sterling Brown read from the team’s statement. “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action. So our focus today cannot be on basketball.”

For months, the players have tried to do both. They’ve resumed the COVID-shortened season inside a Disneyworld bubble in Orlando, Fla., and their players association even helped fund a low-cost, open-source saliva test for the coronavirus. But the players maintained their support for the summer’s social justice protests and, increasingly, are stepping up to lead.

Off the court, Lebron James, the WNBA’s Renee Montgomery and a roster of other high-profile athletes are putting millions into More than a Vote, a campaign to recruit poll workers and support polling stations in Black precincts.

The women of the WNBA have been beating the drum for social justice since the summer of 2016 – well before even Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid began taking a knee during the national anthem. Players from the Atlanta Dream have faced off with Georgia senator and team owner Kelly Loeffler, who has fought the WNBA’s support of Black Lives Matter.

This week’s strike represents the finest tradition of collective action. “It was important for us to collectively come up with something that we feel would make a very bold statement,” said Ariel Atkins of the Washington Mystics. “We’re Black women. We’re used to people trying to tell us to shut up. We don’t care. We’re here. We’re going to say what we gotta say and say how we feel.”

An emotional Chris Weber told the players not to listen to cynics who said the protests won’t matter. “If not now, when?” said the former NBA star. “You are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.”

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