For years, Michael Jordan has taken criticism from those who’d wished one of the most famous, visible, wealthy and powerful athletes in the world would use his considerable public profile and influence to speak out on social issues affecting the African American community. For years, the six-time NBA champion and basketball legend’s legacy of on-court success has been counterbalanced by four non-quoted words — “Republicans buy sneakers, too” — often used to call Jordan onto the carpet for failing “to embrace the leverage he possessed as the nation’s most iconic athlete across the 1990s.”
Well, now, the Hall of Famer and Charlotte Hornets owner has chosen to speak.
In an essay for The Undefeated published Monday, the 53-year-old Jordan makes his voice heard in the wake of the recent unrest in the country following the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., the police killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., the killing of five police officers by a lone gunman at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, the police shooting of North Miami behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey as he lay on his back with his hands thrust in the air trying to coax an autistic patient back into a mental health center, and all the protests and demonstrations that have followed.
With persistent issues of racism, violence against African Americans, police brutality and gun violence coming to the forefront for many NBA and WNBA players of late, Jordan decided that, “as a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man […] deeply troubled” by the deaths on both sides of the divide, the time was now for him to speak, and to act:
“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. We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers — who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all — are respected and supported.
“Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service. I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change.
“To support that effort, I am making contributions of $1 million each to two organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The Institute for Community-Police Relations’ policy and oversight work is focused on building trust and promoting best practices in community policing. My donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s oldest civil rights law organization, will support its ongoing work in support of reforms that will build trust and respect between communities and law enforcement. Although I know these contributions alone are not enough to solve the problem, I hope the resources will help both organizations make a positive difference.”
Jordan’s Monday statement comes four days after the NBA announced it was pulling the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte in opposition to House Bill 2, a law passed in March by North Carolina legislators and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory that reversed a Charlotte city ordinance expanding rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Jordan, who had previously said that he and the Hornets organization were “opposed to discrimination in any form,” had made the decision to issue his statement and make his donations “about two weeks ago,” but decided to delay them after learning the league would be relocating the All-Star Game because he “did not want his announcement to take away from the focus on the LGBT community,” a spokesperson told The Undefeated:
Jordan’s commitment to diversity, his spokeswoman said, has been long established. “But he’s always been very private and personal about many of these things.”
Of the decision to speak out and contribute his voice and money now, she said: “Michael was tired of just talking. He wanted to do something about the issue. This was very important to him.”
In years past, Jordan has tended to wield influence in the social sphere as an extension of his business pursuits, as Scoop Jackson detailed for ESPN back in 2014 (hat-tip to Myles Brown):
In the comprehensive context of Jordan “not being black enough,” people miss how over the years with his position in the Jordan Brand as CEO, the company is the only one inside of Nike that has had multiple African-American presidents. (Disclosure: I worked with Nike from 2001-05, but not with the Jordan brand.) Outside of Nike president Trevor Edwards, the execs at the Jordan Brand have always been the highest-ranking blacks in the parent company (Nike). This is something that Jordan’s made sure of; something that is not happenstance or a mistake.
“Michael’s willingness to hire, support and promote minority leaders throughout his business ventures has been remarkable,” Larry Miller, president of the Jordan Brand said in defense of the perception that the depths of Jordan’s contribution to “the struggle” goes no further than that of a glorified pitchman. “He has always been focused on creating successful and sustainable businesses and has empowered minority leaders, including myself, with the opportunity to grow and advance those businesses.” […]
“It is hard to believe that in 2014 there is only one African-American majority owner in all the major men’s pro leagues,” [said Dr. Richard Lapchick, director at The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.] The importance of Michael Jordan as a player is matched by his being the only owner. It is critical for minority youth to see that there are options to battling the long odds to become a pro athlete and that there are many opportunities to work in the world of sport as team presidents, general managers, COOs and, yes, even as owners. In the era of the Donald Sterling nightmare, the NBA and our society need Michael Jordan now more than ever and need other people of color to become owners in the near future.”
And yet, as valuable and viable a means of contributing to progress as Jordan’s economic leadership has been, this choice to speak about the need for “constructive change” will likely generate far more attention and dialogue … and, perhaps, further action.
“We’re at a critical moment in our country where people do need to step up,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to The Undefeated. “It’s important for people who have a profile of a Michael Jordan to step forward and identify this as a critical issue.”