Opinion // Michael Jordan, Black Lives Matter & Taking a Stance

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This story is solely opinion-based, and reflects my thoughts as a black man, a member of the sneaker community, and a staff writer at Nice Kicks. This story in no way reflects the opinions of the Nice Kicks staff as a whole.

words // Darren Griffin

Michael Jordan is a complex and uniquely private public figure. He’s never been outspoken about the ways of the world and its many injustices, although he seems to always have a pulse on that of which revolves around him. Awareness has never been his fallacy, only silence.

Today, though, in a statement published by The Undefeated, Jordan offers his opinion on the state of racial injustice in American, police killings of African-Americans and the slaying of police officers.

“As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.”

Jordan continued, “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.”

The statement, though heartfelt and honest, will likely be met with mixed reviews considering Jordan’s largely muted tone on topics of this nature. Moreover, in his efforts to help raise awareness and financially support relief, he is donating $1 million dollars to both the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

This, too, will be viewed as playing both sides of the fence, a noncommittal teetering of the line where most would have you cement your footing firmly on one side. Jordan didn’t do that. But should he have?

Considering his only true political statement infamously revolves around republicans, and their need to also buy sneakers, his speech alone comes as somewhat of a shock. Jordan’s remark in question, “republicans buy sneakers, too” was collectively viewed as a failure to place his substantial weight behind African-American U.S. Senate hopeful Harvey Gantt in 1990, who challenged the racially turbulent acting Senator Jesse Helms. This all lends to the narrative that if Michael Jordan speaks out – something he’s rarely if ever done before in over three decades of a life in the spotlight – we must be in trouble. And we are.

It’s no secret that many carry disdain for Jordan for having never spoken on issues of race relations in American. I, too, have often held him in contempt for his deafening silence. Adversely, though, there were times when I understood Jordan being less than outspoken.

Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem Adbul Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) via: Getty Images
Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) via: Getty Images

Generation altering activists and thought leaders of their time like Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali, are revered as heroes both on and off their respective fields of play. They spoke loudly, acted fiercely and kicked down doors so those that followed their trailblazing path wouldn’t have to. Michael Jordan, in perspective, is someone who went to a university that if Bill Russell had even stepped foot on the grounds in his day, could have been lynched. Jordan didn’t have to fight those same battles, but rumble MJ did.

He broke down boundaries through his sense of commerce and business savvy. His financial successes, leadership through ownership and hiring of blacks across his many business endeavors should not be overlook. Yet, we still wanted and needed Michael to speak loudly, as the icons before him had.

Today, he finally spoke.

The headline initially made me anxious. I was alarmed yet overwhelmingly excited he was sharing his thoughts so publicly. Internally, I knew that statements typically tend to sound a lot like statements, vetted by PR pros and often don’t touch the root of the issue or the individual’s truest feelings towards said issue(s). But I consumed it anyway.

After I did, though, I was as confused as I was when I first laid eyes on the headline. I know that Michael Jordan’s life is far from mine or yours, or that of our families. Thus, his experience with the police force has always been that of a friendly, employer/employee relationship, which Jordan, by in large, acts as the former. Police officers where he is concerned act as they should, and operate at a capacity that if replicated with all other African-American citizens, I wouldn’t be writing this and Jordan wouldn’t have made the comments that he did. Thus my issue with the statement as a whole.

The sneaker community thrives in its oneness, unity, togetherness. It falls apart when its members act alone. Jordan’s statement was meant to be a rallying cry of togetherness. Ultimately, though, by speaking largely to his life experiences and not expressing a deep-rooted understanding of ours, he acted alone. I don’t think he did so intentionally. Just like I don’t think individuals who say “All Lives Matter” hold a systemic disregard for blacks. I simply believe they lack a general understanding of circumstance.

Donations to both the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund are well placed and immensely helpful. However, with police brutality dating back decades to the very inception of police formation, coupled with the need for reform in that realm far greater, respectfully, why are these dollar amounts equal? If his limit for contributions was $2 million, more than half of those proceeds should have gone to the organization where greater change and resources are needed.

Jordan needed to stand with us first and unequivocally so. I say that because police brutality and brutality against police officers are two different things and should never be viewed as one. Stated simply: the former created the latter. There is no violence against the police force without first violence inflicted by the police force against African-Americans.

Michael Jordan Retirement Press Conference

This is an extremely divisive topic and I don’t mean this to be a complete indictment on Jordan’s character or overarching thought process. He clearly had many great things to say and his heart is undoubtedly in the right place. But that place first needs conviction for blacks ahead of universal mending or co-seeding. The root issue is, and always has been, injustice, oppression and lack of concern for our black bodies that are being slain with disheartening regularity. Michael Jordan cares deeply about this, which is why he stated he could “no longer stay silent.” But when your voices carries as much weight as his does, everything you utter is registered loud and clear. I registered a teetering of the line, a noncommittal that was easily obvious to pinpoint.

My opinion, though, subjective to personal experiences and those of whom I’ve interacted with, is mine and mine alone. I could speak to my intimate and horrifying encounters with policing growing up in the inner city of Houston, Texas. I could speak to the unfounded run-ins I’ve had since moving to Austin, Texas, over a decade ago. I could speak to the friends and family members I hold dear that I’ve personally seen bullied, brutalized and devalued by the police force. I could also speak to the unjust killing of David Joseph, an unarmed 17-year old gunned down by an Austin Police Department officer back in February. But Jordan’s comments aren’t just about my story or yours; his comments, right or wrong, represent each and every one of us. And quite frankly, each and every one of us deserved better.

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