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What does it mean if Michael Jordan is finally speaking out against black issues?

In 2014, ESPN wrote a profile of Michael Jordan in regards to African-American issues. The writer, Scoop Jackson, detailed Roland Lazenby’s biography of Jordan and his influence on economics. Jordan’s brand is the most sterling of brands when it comes to sneakers, apparel, and reach. Few believe Jordan achieved this platform by stepping on toes. Even more decry his name for a line that has dogged him in the eyes of many, “Republicans buy sneakers too” (Jordan has denied ever saying this.)

That was 1990, right at the apex of African-American teenagers and children being shot and killed for their Jordans. Sports Illustrated ran an article in May of that year titled “Your Sneakers Or Your Life”. The lede featured a story about a 17-year-old boy strangling a 15-year-old boy and stealing his Air Jordans. The Jordans were the story, though as it would turn out – the 17-year-old would turn out to be a serial killer and had actually sodomized his 15-year-old victim as well. America didn’t know that. America merely made the correlation of street culture, sneaker culture and the demand for the hottest sneakers in the world and ran with it.

Jordan was not vocal with his politics. He was white, indifferent, a behind the scene player more than front line hellraiser like Ali, Jabbar, Jim Brown, John Carlos & Tommie Smith. But by him remaining silent, it created the storm of Anti-Jordan support. Jabbar said he championed “commerce over conscience” in 2015. The rumor of him donating money to prisons allowed the idea of contributing to the prison industrial complex to fester. The truth of that is that it was somebody else named Michael Jordan.

Jordan’s fight in regards to politics was never about being vocal – it was about economic empowerment.

Per ESPN:

Jordan just happens to do this “black thing” in a way that has been different. Quiet. Subtle. And no one gets it. His contribution to the race has been by providing power but not by voice. Most blacks aren’t used to that. We want our leaders and heroes to make noise. Instead, Jordan has had more black people employed and upwardly moving through a $2.5 billion shoe brand for years. And now he’s carrying that same process over to franchise ownership.

“After Jim Crow laws went into effect [in North Carolina], African-Americans there had no political rights,” Roland Lazenby said recently. “They had to focus on economic rights. That’s the only way they got ahead. Nobody, black or white, made any money in sharecropping. It was a disastrous economic system. But [Michael Jordan’s] mother’s father was a badass as a sharecropper. He kicked ass, came to own his own land, determined his own fate. His mother, although she didn’t get along well with her father, was just like him, locked in on economic success.”

Contextualize that with Jordan being the owner of the Charlotte Hornets where he has African-Americans in positions that no other team in the NBA has people in as well as an executive staff with more people of color on it than any other team in sports and you have, again, something more than a T-shirt.

The case for Jordan

Michael Jordan wasn’t on the front lines of protest, of activism. He handled it in the board room via his hiring practices, by donating to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 and re-election campaign in 2012. He launched a $5 million grant program in Washington D.C. for teachers in poor areas in 1999.

In December of 2015, Jordan donated all of the $8.9 million in settlement money he received after suing two supermarket chains over improper use of his likeness to 23 non-profit organizations in Chicago. He being the lone black majority owner in the NBA was adamant in the removal of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014.

The irony of 2016 has hit Jordan in various ways, much like the year has hit all of us in different levels. HB2 affected the city of Charlotte and cost them the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. Jordan was a vocal proponent against the bill and understood the league moving the game.

Michael Jordan speaking about the recent police shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge & Falcon Heights is a larger, larger thing.

In a letter to ESPN’s The Undefeated, Jordan wrote that he could “no longer stay silent” on the issue, pledging $1 million apiece to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund & Institute for Community-Police Relations, a chapter created by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Jordan’s vocal power is large enough. The donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a group that separated itself from the NAACP in 1957 is a bold one. The group’s first President was Thurgood Marshall from 1940 to 1951 and its campaign against segregation led to the eventual Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. It’s legal arm has worked towards removing bias from policing in municipalities ranging from Ferguson to Stockton, CA and has remained steadfast in fighting inadequacies in the criminal justice system. In a way, the LDF operates the same way Jordan does in his “activism”. They’re “quiet” and work within the moments that aren’t bright, when the stories fade to the back page. Donating money to the IACP’s Institute for Community-Police Relations essentially is a donation to a fraternal order of police in an effort to improve community relations.

Jordan may have made a step here, but it’s only a half step. Donating $2 million to improve community relations is one thing, not explicitly addressing the elephant in the room is another.

The case against Jordan

At the crux of all of this, the improper policing, the biases lobbied upon black and brown people and more is racism. It was ignored completely and given a status of general apathy during the President’s Town Hall earlier this month. It was also ignored in Jordan’s letter.

He’s right, improved relations between the police and the citizens they’re asked to protect has to occur. Saying we need to find solutions to ensure that “people of color receive fair and equal treatment” is an essential statement. Also letting it be known that policing in regards to him as arguably the most famous person on Earth and other men & women who may look like him is also a key point for Jordan. But all of it feels like something old, some of the same ethos preached by President Obama that ultimately feels like lip service to one side and an eye roll for the other.

Saying all of this without detailing the root is what may bother me and many others. It may bother people who already have fostered thoughts about Jordan due to his perceived lack of empathy in regards to the pricing of his shoes and people murdering one another over them. In one way, Jordan won’t win over people that way. He’ll forever be the butt of jokes (non Jordan Cry Face) and scorn for the believed “overpricing” of his shoes when the market dictates such things. Carmelo Anthony, a Jordan Brand athlete who used the 2016 ESPYs as a platform to discuss state sanctioned murder against black men said Jordan’s move was “brilliant and about time”. The about time part may be stinging but it’s right.

Jordan’s father was murdered in 1993 and it’s burned at him ever since. Jordan’s also the father of two black boys who while rich and born in affluence may get the same treatment of anyone who doesn’t look like Michael Jordan. To have him verbally decry frustrations in watching videos of black men and women die at the hands of police is a step in the right direction. To have him also echo similar statements of toeing the line as the President will frustrate plenty of others. The thing is, he also isn’t behooved to make these statements but that’s another conversation to have.

But Michael Jordan saying something has more ramifications than anything.

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