Thursday, July 28, 2016

Republicans Buy Sneakers 2

Michael Jordan's infamous HOF speech (Photo Credit The Republican/Don Treeger)

Pick your favorite Michael Jordan moment.  It may be his shot over Craig Ehlo, or his driving layup against the Lakers in his first NBA Finals, or his general wake of devastation he left in Salt Lake City. But hanging up his jersey didn’t mean that he was through providing historical content, most recently speaking out on shootings of African Americans and the police. The comments were his first public ones of substance regarding a social issue since his “Republicans buy sneakers, too” quip he made over 25 years ago. The largely tepid comments (buoyed substantially by his million dollar donations to the International Association of Chiefs of Police and NAACP Legal Defense Fund) have received a wide-range of comments and criticisms.  Some decried that the statement wasn’t strong enough, and others that Jordan’s comments were too little, too late.

Inherent in the conversation about Jordan and his message are two points:
  •     How interested is Jordan in advancing black causes?
  •     And what requirement is there for famous/powerful blacks to advance any cause not of their own?

The first question is impossible to know without knowing Jordan on an intimate level that nearly no one on earth has. And without that knowledge, speculating on such is unfair and irresponsible.

The second is a long-standing question in the black community.  For those fortunate enough to become stars and leaders in their field (particularly those that are famous) what is required? His fellow owners (nearly all white) own teams comprised of mostly African American men. It would appear that they would be affected by recent police violence, but to date no other owner has addressed the issue in any meaningful way. Only Jordan felt “compelled” to do so.  But in earnest, shouldn’t the thoughts of those outside the marginalized class be weighted more heavily, if change is truly the goal?

Jordan issuing the statement soon began the question of how down he was with the cause of advancing black people.  Critics pointed to his deafening silence on a myriad of racial issues; not least of which regarding the exorbitant rates of his famous shoes—creating such a high value that violence has ensued in their acquisition in the black community.  But people fail to mention that his Jumpman organization and the Hornets have a strong record of hiring minorities.  Public consumption of celebrity philanthropy can be insatiable, and not even Jordan is immune.

The criticisms came hard and fast for Jordan, so much so that it felt like people were making up for lost time.  Granted, any public addressing of the killings of black people at the hands of police will draw ire, but Jordan has garnered consistent mocking since the dawning of social media.  Whether it was his fashion decisions or the infamous meme, he has become a target for ridicule.
At the height of his popularity, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find much non-basketball criticism of MJ. But now it feels like the first former player (and only African American) to be a majority owner is closer to a punchline than a trailblazer. Was Jordan always held in such low esteem and now people have more avenues to express their disparagement? Has Jordan’s post-playing career been so confounding as to create detractors? Or, more likely, have we hit a time in society when being universally liked is a thing of the past?  

Celebrities (and particularly athletes) are seen as larger than life, but are susceptible to the same doubts and pitfalls as the rest of society.  Those in the public eye are usually talented at a highly-lucrative skill, and should be treated as such. Change won’t come about until average people take responsibility for the society in which we live. To borrow a line I heard recently in Philadelphia, life isn’t a spectator sport, and waiting on stars (sports or otherwise) to save everyone is a waste of time and talent.