Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Pro Sports Are Pro-Social Abdul-Jabbar: Pro Sports Are Pro-Social Change Image...

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  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Pro Sports Are Pro-Social Change

    Image Group LAABC via Getty ImagesOn July 13, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBronJames began the ESPYS with a call for justice.Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. He is the author of the forthcomingbook, Writings on the Wall.

    As LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paulproved in their ESPYs speech last night, athletes must advocate forjustice

    As someone involved with professional sports for most of my life, Im gratified to see that pro athletes and sportsorganizations are finally being embraced as leaders against social injustice. Wednesday night, NBA playersCarmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James opened the ESPY Awards with a call for athletesand everyoneto work toward change. As Wade said, The racial profiling has to stop. The shoot-to-killmentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also the retaliation has tostop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallasnot to mention Orlandoit has to stop. Enough.He continued, Now, as athletes, its on us to challenge each other to do even more than what we already do in ourown communities. And the conversation, it cannot stop as our schedules get busy again. It wont always be easy. Itwont always be comfortable. But it is necessary.

    This change will have a long-term effect on American culture. Both the public and the athletes are rejecting thetraditional persona of dumb jocks too numbed on steroids to see beyond their own chiseled reflection in a full-


  • length locker-room mirror. That dismissive image has been destructive not just to sports but America in general. Itpromotes an arrogant, dim-witted role model who lends moral support to bigots, misogynists and homophobes.Theold line about athletes keeping their mouths shut as not to offend the paying customers is thankfully now a thing ofthe past, when the public chastised pioneers of athletes using their celebrity to publicize a cause. In 1967,Muhammad Ali was vilified and stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to be inducted into the army in protestof our involvement in the Vietnam War. The next year, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in aBlack Power salute during the 1968 Olympics to protest racial inequality in the U.S., they were kicked off theOlympic team, and they and their families received numerous death threats. Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, JimBrown, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe all led us forward. Each were evoked last night. Im honored that myname was among theirs.Like it or not, kids look up to sports figures. And many have had their hearts broken byshoddy models like Lance Armstrong, Ray Rice, Ben Johnson, Aaron Hernandez and many others who havecheated or committed violent crimes. Their sins were selfish or indulgent rage. Todays enlightened athlete mayanger fansundoubtedly some misguided people were enraged two years ago by LeBron James and fellow NBAathletes wearing I Cant Breathe t-shirts to protest the police killing of unarmed African-American Eric Garner,while several NFL players joined the protest with similar attire or the hands up, dont shoot gesture popularizedafter Michael Brown suffered a similar fatebut the athletes do so not to promote their own careers, but astronger, more just America.There are dangers, too, of athletes speaking out. We dont always get it right. I admire retired NBA superstarCharles Barkley for joining NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in publicly calling for the NBA to keep the 2017 All-Star Game out of North Carolina in protest to the states discriminatory law against the LGBT community bysaying, With the position of power that Im in Im supposed to stand up for the people who cant stand up forthemselves. Yet, his comments this week blaming much of the black community for its struggles are simplistic,factually inaccurate and dangerous. I also remember back in 2014 when he publicly supported corporalpunishment against children, which also showed how athletes must be careful in choosing what to support.Whippingwe do that all the time, he said then. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under thosecircumstances. His defense of cultural tradition flew in the face of science: This year, an analysis of more than 50years worth of studies concluded that children who were spanked, even occasionally, were more likely to defytheir parents, have mental health problems and be anti-social. And next week, former NFL player Tim Tebow willadvocate for Donald Trump, whos advocated unconstitutional policies against people of color as well as againstreligious freedom. Our celebrity is not a shield against ignoranceits a demand for public responsibility.

    Being on the right side of history requires some knowledge of the past. From it, we learn that discrimination alwaysis on the wrong side. But we also learn that every time it is defeated, it pops up again somewhere else. In 1965,Aldous Huxley, author of the novel Brave New World, said: Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternalvigilance is the price of human decency. In the name of human decency, every time we see discrimination, we asathletes and as humans are obligated to attack it. Thats the game we should all be playing.

    TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. Wewelcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.