You’d be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t heard of Michael Jordan. Renowned mostly for his on-the-court basketball dominance and off-the-court popular Jordan sneaker brand, the six-time NBA Finals MVP made a splash recently after ESPN’s The Undefeated ran a letter from the former baller. It was aptly headlined, “Michael Jordan: I can no longer stay silent.”
Jordan became one of a growing number of millionaire athletes adding their voice to the nation’s debate over race relations and police violations. In part, he said this: “I was raised by parents who taught me to love and respect people regardless of their race or background, so I am saddened and frustrated by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent.”
It’s been a busy two weeks for the former Chicago Bulls great. Last week NBA Commissioner Adam Silver removed the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte due to a North Carolina bill that wouldn’t afford protections to the state’s LGBT community. Jordan, a majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, , expressed disappointment with the commissioner’s decision, but said he ultimately understood why the decision had to be made. Jordan also independently opposed the bill, citing its discriminatory nature.
“Hornets are opposed to discrimination in any form, and we have always sought to provide an inclusive environment,” Jordan said at the time.
Just two summers ago, when then owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was forced to sell the team in the wake of racist remarks that were recorded and then released to the public, Jordan was very vocal., He told several news outlets the following: “As an owner I’m obviously disgusted that a fellow team owner could hold such sickening and offensive views.” So contrary to popular belief, Jordan does have a history of speaking out on issues.
However, for years the knock on Jordan has been his alleged reluctance to publically address social inequality. Many feel that because he doesn’t speak out on every single issue, he hasn’t fully internalized the struggle and seems more removed or hell-bent on distancing himself from seeming too outspoken; the whole commerce over conscience dynamic. “Come down off your high-horse MJ,” people seem to be saying.
Let’s get one thing straight, there’s not a thin line between obligation and choice. Just because someone is wealthy, rich or prominent doesn’t make them obligated to champion social issues and injustices. Injustice is a fight that John and/or Jane Doe can fight in unison with Jordan. In fact, I wouldn’t want someone to fight a battle because they felt obligated to fight or felt external pressure from society, fans and sponsors. I want that individual to fight because it’s a conscious choice they’re making.
In addition to Jordan electing to speak up, he also donated $1 million respectively to both the Institute for Community Public Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, two organizations he feels can help bring about the change the country needs. When his spokesperson was asked why the decision to speak up and donate money came now, she said, “Michael was tired of just talking. He wanted to do something about the issue.” When it comes to social issues all you can ask of someone is to have the desire to actually want to make a difference.
When current NBA superstars Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James opened the ESPY Awards show with an impassioned speech urging people to end the violence, no one forced or coerced them into doing that. They did so out of their own volition.
While speeches like the one we saw and heard from them aren’t common from the superstar athlete of today, that doesn’t make them any less than the pioneers such as Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown or the late great Muhammad Ali who helped paved the way for them to have a voice to express themselves.
Obviously they picked an opportune time to do so, as millions tuned in around the world watch the ESPYs, and some would say that was a great platform to achieve their desired goal. But the ESPYs happens once a year. Surely athletes shouldn’t wait just once a year to speak out on issues. Standing up for social justice should never be incumbent upon having a platform. The most important thing in getting involved in any struggle is desire.
Often times we believe that if you’re rich or famous then you have to be at the forefront of every struggle that goes on, when in reality we know that’s not feasible. Newsflash: no matter how rich Jordan is or continues to become, he still is and always will be viewed as a Black man. Last time I checked, in this country, the color green doesn’t supersede being Black. Jordan is a Black man who happens to be rich, not a rich man who happens to be Black. As a result, there’s only so much he can actually do. As much as we need Jordan’s help, he needs our help too..
Jordan, like many young Black men across the country, lost his father to senseless violence. Jordan’s father, James Jordan, was murdered in 1993 during a roadside robbery in North Carolina by two men. So Jordan understands and empathizes with what’s going on in this country. Regardless of color, he can relate to the Black boy who lost his father down in Baton Rouge and in the same breath he can relate to the children of slain officers.
He understands the inherent perils that being both Black and being a police officer in this country pose at this particular time, which is why his letter to The Undefeated is probably one of the most humanizing moments of his personal life. Loss of human life is loss of human life. You don’t have to be Black or a police officer to identify with loss of human life.
Cognizant of the fact that his letter and donations won’t be enough, Jordan ended his letter much like his current NBA contemporaries did their speech- with a call to action. In order to solve the problems of this country he urged members of the African-American community and law enforcement to work together to create a more peaceful nation where healthy dialogue and understanding can be fostered.
Whether it be Wade, Paul, Anthony, James or Jordan, most superstar athletes recognize that in the court of public opinion, whether they build a school, write a check, or write a letter, there will always be a segment of people who feel they can do more or that what they’re doing is too little too late.
Better late than never.
Marcus Lamar is a New York-based sports journalist. You can check out his podcast “Marc My Words” on Soundcloud, YouTube and coming to iTunes soon. Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.