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Athletes have protested for years — so what’s different now? It’s no longer a single, radical voice speaking out.
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Athletes have protested for years — so what’s different now? It’s no longer a single, radical voice speaking out.

Craig Hodges reveled in sharing history, current events and revolutionary ideas with his Chicago Bulls teammates and visiting opponents.

Many shook their heads, shrugged or told him he was on his own.

That included quick dismissals from Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson when the veteran Bulls guard approached them about boycotting Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Hodges wanted to call attention to America’s racism in the wake of the high-profile Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King.

Hodges’ request was rejected. But he wasn’t deterred.

“It was one of those things where they’re all saying: ‘Nah, Hodge. Nah, man. That’s you. That’s you,’ “ he told the Tribune. “We saw Rodney King get beat. What more do we need? It’s like when they say they shot Jacob Blake in the back, but you need to review it? Some of it is right in your face.

“When I was standing up, I was like, ‘Man, you can’t see it?’ I wasn’t raised to be angry about the oppression, but I was raised to do something about it.”

Now Hodges is encouraged to see today’s athletes doing something about it.

Across leagues and sports, races and genders, players united this summer to protest racial inequalities for the widest work stoppage in U.S. sports history.

The Milwaukee Bucks refused to compete in Game 5 of their playoff series Aug. 26 in response to Kenosha police shooting Blake seven times in the back, leaving the Evanston native paralyzed from the waist down.

The NBA eventually canceled all three of the night’s playoff games as the strike spread through sports.

The Detroit Lions canceled scheduled practices, copied by nine other NFL teams in the following days.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds sat out, motivating MLB to postpone other games. The New York Mets and Miami Marlins left a Black Lives Matter shirt on home plate before exiting the field.

The WNBA — with the most vocal athletes among professional leagues — protested games and dedicated its season to Breonna Taylor, a Louisville, Ky., woman who was fatally shot in her sleep by police who entered the wrong home.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka refused to play in the Cincinnati Masters semifinals.

The NHL postponed games, and several college football teams have canceled practices, staged walkouts and organized marches on campuses.

“If I didn’t have (basketball) talent, I possibly would’ve been George Floyd,” said Bucks star George Hill, according to ESPN, explaining why he spearheaded the walkout amid protests over the Minneapolis police killing of Floyd in May. “It possibly would’ve been all my family members that got gunned down in the streets in Indianapolis.

“So, yes, this for me, it impacts me even more because I’ve seen the killing going on and I’ve seen the police brutality. I’ve seen that my cousin is lying in the street for an hour and a half before another police officer gets there. So I get emotional because it really hurts.”

Despite conservative media calls to “shut up and dribble,” political activism and sports always have been intertwined.

Jesse Owens helped destroy the very premise of Nazi white supremacy by winning four Olympic gold medals in 1936 in Berlin. Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson were examples used to dismantle the so-called logic behind Jim Crow laws.

Billie Jean King’s and later Venus Williams’ fight for equal pay highlighted the national gender wage gap. Colin Kaepernick’s quiet kneeling on the sideline forced a national conversation on police brutality.

So what’s unique about these protests in 2020?

The movement isn’t a single, radical voice.

This is a chorus.

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