"Republicans buy sneakers too." If there was ever a single quote Michael Jordan probably regretted, it was that one. To remind you, that was a comment MJ made in jest to explain why he didn't support Harvey Gantt, the Democratic candidate for Senate in 1990. It wasn't an easy decision for Jordan - the request to support Gantt came from one of the most important persons in his life, his mom.
But, MJ decided he wasn't going to support Gantt publicly. As an athlete, Jordan was focused on basketball and felt it was disingenuous to publicly support someone he doesn't know - especially in a political race for a seat in the Senate. To use a phrase we often hear these days, MJ decided it wasn't honest to speak up on a topic he didn't do his research on.
"My mother asked to do a PSA for Harvey Gantt, and I said, ‘Look, Mom, I’m not speaking out of pocket about someone that I don’t know. But I will send a contribution to support him.’ Which is what I did. ... I do commend Muhammad Ali for standing up for what he believed in. But I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player. I wasn’t a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That’s where my energy was.”
Michael Jordan, The Last Dance
Once you start talking about societal and political issues, it goes on your permanent record. If you want to keep your credibility, so your word means something, consistency is critical. Seems like athletes understood that in the past. That didn't mean they didn't speak out. From the aforementioned Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, some of the most significant contributions of shining a light on injustice came from athletes. But once they started, Kareem and Ali never avoided a discussion or argument. They didn't hide behind "personal choice." Kareem even called out MJ for his silence.
“You can’t be afraid of losing shoe sales if you’re worried about your civil and human rights. He took commerce over conscience. It’s unfortunate for him, but he’s gotta live with it.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, HuffPost
We've seen MJ become a lot more publicly involved in issues he cares about - he released a statement about police brutality in 2016 and made two $1 million donations to organizations that build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Jordan also spoke up in support of Colin Kaepernick, backed LeBron after President Donald Trump questioned James's intelligence, and held a fundraiser for President Obama. But in all those cases, MJ wasn't preachy and righteous about it. He put his name behind issues he is passionate about and went on with his day.
The superstars of today have a different problem on their hands. They entered the political arena without fully understanding the consequences it brings. It's one thing to be judged on your statements and comments on basketball and topics surrounding the game. But once you start talking about justice, fairness, and similar issues, you can't have double standards. That's worse than not supporting someone in a political race; that's exactly what LeBron James and Draymond Green did.
When asked about Andrew Wiggins, Draymond said that "as a leader of this team," he's not going to ask Wiggins about his vaccination status the same way he's "not going to go and ask him did he get a polio vaccine? So why would I go ask him if he got a Covid vaccine?" This example proved that Draymond didn't do his research - we don't have to go around asking people about polio because the disease was eradicated in the Americas in 1994 due to, drumroll, vaccination. We have the luxury of not caring about it because the generations that came before us had the sense of social responsibility to get vaccinated against polio. LeBron supported Green's lack of knowledge by tweeting, "Couldn't have said it any better."
"The position that's difficult that Draymond and LeBron took afterward is they are part of this "More Than An Athlete" brand, where they say 'We can use our influence to do things that are way outside basketball.' Which is obviously the evolution of a modern athlete, in a clearly positive direction. But, they are cherry-picking. This is why it's dangerous to do this. Because, you can't say you're more than an athlete on some things, and then on other things say 'What do I know, who am I to say?' It creates a disingenuous situation."
Brian Windhorst, The Hoop Collective
So if you're against police brutality, particularly that based on race and ethnicity, you should be equally vocal about it when it happens in New York and Hong Kong. MJ was just silent during the 1990 senate race because "Republicans buy sneakers too." What LeBron did was much worse; he used a standard propaganda talking point about "not being educated enough" when talking about Daryl Morey. Chinese buy (and make) sneakers, too, I guess.
NBA players' double standards and hypocrisy stand out even stronger when it comes to vaccination. Whenever you talk about the NBA, the players are going to come at you with, "Did you play in the NBA? Then you don't get to talk about us." Your expertise level has to be of the highest order if you want the right to question and comment on a game in which ten men run around a court throwing a ball through a metal ring.
But when it comes to immunology and epidemiology, it seems like Draymond and LeBron don't hold themselves to the same standard. Now, dr. Anthony Fauci, with his Ph.D., a lifetime of excellence in immunology, many awards, including the American Association of Immunologists Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, apparently can't say the same to Green and James.
Suddenly a high school graduate from St. Vincent-St. Mary and a Communication major from the Michigan State University don't need expertise in immunology to be "more than an athlete," and compare polio vaccines with COVID vaccines.
When it comes to basketball, LeBron and Draymond are some of the most intelligent people on Earth - just like Anthony Fauci is when it comes to viruses. How about we listen to the experts, especially when it's a matter of life and death?
The opinions expressed within this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website.