In late April, NBA all-time great and Charlotte Hornet owner, Michael Jordan, stated that his organization was "opposed to discrimination in any form" and pledged to work hard to provide an "inclusive environment." The statement was brief, and not surprisingly was quickly denounced by many as weak, tepid, and empty. The statement came more than a month after the North Carolina legislature passed HR 2 which opened the door wide to discrimination against LGBT people and encoded in state law discrimination against transgender people. Jordan's statement made absolutely no mention of this issue.
The instant the bigotry battlefront shifted to North Carolina with the enactment of the bill many immediately looked to Jordan to speak out. This was a battle that he seemingly couldn't duck. He is the owner of the Hornets, the NBA All Star Game is scheduled for Charlotte in February 2017, and the top NBA officials have made it crystal clear that they strongly oppose HR2. They also strongly hinted that if the law wasn't scrapped the game could be pulled. The possibility of this got Jordan involved. Reports were that he was lobbying hard to get the more odious features of the bill scrapped. A North Carolina House committee with one eye on the NBA saber rattle against the bill, and the threat to pull its flagship game that would cost the state more millions in lost revenue, and even more embarrassment, has taken some action to soften the bill.
If it does, should Jordan get props for coming in from the cold in the fight against discrimination? He should, but it's not likely to change the minds of many who roundly denounce him for his alleged see no evil, hear no evil stance on discrimination.
The longest standing knock against Jordan is that he won't open his mouth or take any action to confront bigotry. The torrent of verbal abuse Jordan got started when he was stone mute on the senate race in 1990 in which Harvey Gantt had a good shot at toppling virulent, right wing Senator Jesse Helms. Gantt would have become the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. In the next few years, Jordan's name would invariably come up whenever there was a controversial and compelling racial issue on everything from jobs and voting rights to Black Lives Matter and police abuse that drew a statement or condemnation from noted black entertainers or athletes. Jordan wouldn't be among them. Even his "outrage" in 2014 over former L.A. Clipper's owner, Donald Sterling's naked racially incendiary jibes, came after dozens of other NBA players, some owners, and the NBA commissioner, had lambasted Sterling. It did little to convince that Jordan had arrived on discrimination.
Jordan is the poster boy for the rich, self-indulgent black athlete who supposedly shirks their duty to speak out on racial bias simply because he still is the most bankable and recognizable sports figure on the planet. This carries with it many say a special burden to carry the water for racial and social causes, or at the very least to give and give generously to black causes. This view is understandable but it's not realistic and, at worst unfair. Jordan, is an athlete, that means he's an entertainer, and entertainers by definition entertain, no matter what their color. They are not social activists, nor are they with rare exceptions equipped to take on that role. It's not simply out of fear of losing lucrative endorsements, big money contracts, or even being drummed out of their sport. It takes a lot to frame a compelling, strong statement, or take action on a racial wrong.
Black superstar athletes of yesteryear, such as Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, Curt Flood, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, are held up as socially conscious role models for black athletes who dared speak out or protest racial injustice. Yet, even in their day they were the rarities, and that came at a time when there was a vigorous civil rights movement, and organizations to lead and champion the racial battles. That day has long passed. While, there's an occasional spurt of activism, such as when some black NFL and NBA players protested the Trayvon Martin killing, this is also the rare exception. Jordan is hardly an anomaly when it comes to maintaining sphinx like silence on racial issues, or any issue of discrimination.
The supposed star power of athletes like Jordan to bring change is wildly inflated. Take the Gantt flap. There's no proof that if Jordan had endorsed him over Helms it would have made the slightest bit of difference in the outcome of the election. If Jordan chooses to speak out on an issue, as he did on HB2 or Sterling's blatant racism, it's because he has a vested interest in doing so. Beyond that he has no special obligation to say and do more about bigotry. North Carolina won't change that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Let's Stop Denying Made in America Terrorism, (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.