Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's stand for justice

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Led by guest editor Carmelo Anthony, the new SLAM magazine focuses on social justice and activism from a basketball perspective. 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to charities that support problems affecting the Black Community. Get your copy here.

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Here is an awkward truth for those wondering why protesters risk their health and life to carry a hand-painted sign down a street lined with enemy armed police: Because every major advance in social equality in the United States is the direct one The result is people who stand up the streets to voice their complaints. The only reason most Americans are able to enjoy the weekend off, go to the park for a pick-up game, be compensated for an accident at work, have an education, vote is that somewhere someone strayed from their place on the couch, put together a rough sign, and waved in the street – usually while they were being beaten for their efforts.

The disagreement with those in power is never answered with benevolent approval and warm handshakes, but with blood, batons and bullets. In 1914, the tent camp of 1,200 striking miners in Ludlow, CO, was attacked by the Colorado National Guard, killing many, including 11 children. The main owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller, whose name is monumentalized today in libraries, park paths and plazas, is said to have ordered the attack. The blood-soaked aftermath of the so-called Ludlow massacre and other similar incidents of state sponsored terrorism are the 40-hour week, reforms to child labor laws and safety rules to protect the limbs and lives of workers. March 1963 in Washington for Work and Freedom, in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, attracted more than 200,000 people – the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed the following year. In 1913, 5,000 women, including Helen Keller, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to support women's suffrage. They were met by a crowd of angry men who injured 300 of the women while cursing them with insults and profanity. Mansplained one of the mob: "Nothing like that would happen if you stayed home."

He was right. Nothing would happen if we all stayed home quietly. Nothing would change.

If we'd all stayed at home, there would be no Boston Tea Party and therefore no USA. If we'd all stayed at home, we would still have slavery and segregation. Women would still be locked in the kitchen. LGBTQ people would have to stay hidden or face openly sanctioned violence. Workers would work long hours for less wages in dangerous conditions. And the police would suffocate and shoot unarmed black men and women without consequences.

One of the most powerful and effective voices for change is that of the professional athlete. Sure, they can take to the streets if they want to fight injustice, but they can also access social media and the press to reach millions of people with messages that stand up against the injustice of the status quo and support those who do risk anything to change things. The influence of the professional athlete is greater than ever. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ranked famous athletes second (73 percent) after their parents (92 percent) among the people they admired the most.

Some athletes refuse to be role models to children, stating that they just want to do their sport and get rich. Whether you like being a role model or not is part of the territory and the athletes have to decide what kind of role model they want to be or the press will decide for them. As we've seen over the past few weeks of this sudden social awakening, the public, corporations, corporations, entertainment conglomerates, and others have magically become aware that racism exists, firing CEOs, executives, actors, magazine editors, and more racist, homophobic, and more Make misogynistic statements in interviews or tweets that go back several years. Athletes were not spared. The LA Galaxy sacked soccer player Aleksandar Katai after his wife posted "racist and violent" comments on Instagram.

I am both grateful and frustrated with these frenzied activities trying to fight systemic racism, especially among professional sports organizations. I am always grateful when there is more public awareness and thus movement to make substantial, measurable changes. But one must always be skeptical of sudden revelations that coincide with the popularity of a train because once the megaphones are silent and the streets empty, outraged power brokers just as suddenly remember their bottom line and reset their moral integrity as they are not cost effective .

On June 5th, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for the NFL's insensitivity to the past: “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of blacks. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players sooner, and we encourage everyone to speak up and protest peacefully. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives matters. "Then he said in an ESPN interview of Colin Kaepernick, who was purposely evicted from football by Goodell and NFL owners who denied systemic racism," Obviously if he wants to continue his career in the NFL it will be a team need make this decision. I welcome that, support an association that makes this decision, and encourage them to do so. “Pretty lukewarm support, especially given the NFL's website on May 22nd, which listed Kaepernick as" retired "despite not making such an announcement. Kaepernick represents their past shame that they would like to ignore.

Other sports organizations have also made generic, uniform statements that appear to be public relations rather than the common good. While the NFL's statement came five days after George Floyd's death, the MLB waited nine days to state, “Our game has no tolerance for racism and racial injustice. The reality that the black community lives in fear or fear of racial discrimination, prejudice or violence is unacceptable. Solving this problem requires action both in our sport and in our society. MLB is committed to moving our communities to make change. We will take the time, effort, and cooperation necessary to address symptoms of systemic racism, prejudice, and injustice, but we will also focus on the root of the problem. “Black Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman replied," Took long enough. " Individual NHL teams made statements condemning racism, as did the NHL Coaches Association. Nice words from everyone. But why did George need Floyd's death to inspire this sudden wakefulness? Why wasn't Eric Garner's “I can't breathe” in 2014 as appalling as George Floyd's “I can't breathe” in 2020? Or Michael Brown, 18, shot six times in 2014? Or Laquan McDonald, 17, shot 16 times in 2014 when walking away from the police? Or the dozen of other unarmed black men and women who were killed? These are the same sports organizations that were more angry with the athletes who kneeled to try to stop the killing than they were with the cops who did the killing.

In part, the anger over protests in the past can be attributed to the fact that sports organizations have often turned to President Trump, the most overtly racist president in modern history. Believing his cult of followers who worship the flag more than the Constitution is more important than the racism that undermines the country let himself be bullied by his rampaging tweets. This is the man who brags that "no one has ever heard of Juneteenth," the celebration of the end of slavery in America before it made it famous. What he means by "nobody" is people who are important; H. White people. Because blacks heard about it, but since we're not on his radar, we don't count. Deaf to the zeitgeist, he announced on June 19 that he would not be watching as players kneel in future NFL games. The question now is, will the NFL forget its promise of equality this fall like it was nothing more than a summer evening? And will other sports organizations follow suit?

The level of official racism, how much we say about racism, can be directly related to the diversity in any sport. The NHL is 3 percent black, the MLB is 8 percent black, the NFL is 70 percent black and the NBA is 80 percent black. And while the NBA has not been perfect at recognizing and combating racism over the years, they have usually been leaders in solving the problem and helping their players speak to their conscience. However, the team's statements after Floyd's death were decidedly "meh" given the intensity of the social climate. Only four – two from black coaches – confirm that Floyd was killed or murdered.

Some sports organizations are likely just hoping to overcome public outrage until things return to normal. Nothing will have changed for them. Others are currently having serious discussions about how the problems can be addressed in concrete ways to improve the lives of people with color everywhere. Shortly after Floyd's death, I was part of a discussion board with NBA executives who wanted to embrace change. I also sat with Lakers players and other members of the organization to hear what they had to say and to discuss options on how I can help the community fight racism. The Lakers also hired UCLA Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Sociology Karida Brown as the first director of justice and action to help the team aggressively fight racism.

And yet…

As hopeful as I am that public support against racism will be poured out, my 60 years as an activist make me cautious. When I was in high school I was involved in a racist protest that made me run for my life. It was July 18, 1964, and I had got off the subway to buy a jazz album at a Harlem record store. I noticed a rally protesting the death of a 15 year old African American, James Powell, by a white off duty police officer, Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan. The shooting had taken place two days earlier and protests have raged across the city since then. Thousands of people gathered in front of the police station to express their anger. A policeman with a megaphone tried to calm the situation down by shouting, “Go home! Go home! "Someone in the crowd had yelled back," We're home, baby! "Chaos soon broke out. Fires were set, objects thrown, shots fired. I ran, ducked and already felt like a target, because I was black, but also an easy target because I was tall. ”Fifty-six years ago they protested against a white cop who shot a black teenager.

Shortly after that, I started my role as an activist and athlete when I was at UCLA. In the beginning there were only a few rallies on campus that opposed the Vietnam War. My trainer, John Wooden, has not encouraged my activism and while he has not openly tried to dissuade me from it, he has made it clear that he thinks this is a dangerous path for me. It was many years before he finally came around and admitted that I had done the right thing. Ironically, Coach Wooden was a social justice warrior long before there was a catchy term in office. In 1947, the basketball team he coached at Indiana State Teacher & # 39; s College won the Indiana Intercollegiate Conference title, which resulted in the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball inviting his team to participate in their national tournament. But Wooden turned it down because the NAIB banned black players and Wooden refused to play without Clarence Walker, a black member of his team. The following year, Wooden's winning team was re-invited to the NAIB tournament after lifting its ban on black players. He had risked his career, but his act of protest changed basketball.

He never told me about it when I played for him; he was too modest. Years later, when I found out what he had done, I wondered why a man who had risked his career on principle couldn't understand why I wanted to do the same. I realized that he was just trying to protect me from the backlash that he knew was coming.

It came in 1967. I had achieved some fame as part of the UCLA championship team. The press was very polite. I was then Lew Alcindor, a fine, healthy American name (the name of the slave owner my family had belonged to) whose father was an excellent cop. The press saw me as an icon of the "good negro," respectful of authority, and grateful that I was given an opportunity that most blacks would never get. But inside I was angry that other African Americans didn't have the same educational opportunities. I just didn't know the best way to express my anger.

Then in May, I received an invitation from soccer star and Hollywood actor Jim Brown to join a group of black athletes and activists in Cleveland to decide whether or not to support Muhammad Ali's refusal to be drafted. When I was 20, I was the youngest and least experienced member of the Cleveland Summit. Ali was only 25 and had to make the biggest decision of his life. If he had retired, he would have had two safe, relatively easy years of service. If he were to fight the government, he would likely lose everything. But he was morally against the war and did not want to be used as a recruiting poster boy to support the war. We discussed Ali's sincerity and commitment a lot – some of our group were ex-military – but in the end we decided to support Ali. Witnessing Ali's unwavering integrity, despite years of government trying to destroy him, was a turning point for me. How could I do less?

How can an American do less?

I realize that many whites are tired of hearing the protests against systemic racism because they feel like they are personally blamed, especially when they feel helpless to do something material about it. It's like a sibling complaining that mom and dad love you more. What can you do about it, even if it's true? Don't take it personally at first. Systemic racism rusted the engine of democracy long before life. However, recognizing the overwhelming scientific evidence that it exists and is destroying black Americans is one step to remedy this. Second, proposals for support aimed at eliminating racism. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70 percent of black Americans say they have experienced discrimination or ill-treatment by the police. Let's start there. By making black people feel more secure when driving, walking or jogging.

Today's professional athletes are asked for their opinion on controversial topics and must be prepared to comment intelligently and articulated. There is no longer any neutrality because, as the South African activist Desmond Tutu said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

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100 percent of the proceeds from the new edition of SLAM will be donated to charities that support problems affecting the Black Community. Get your copy here.

Photos via Getty.

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