Assessing Michael Jordan by his activism strikes as a massive category mistake on par with assessing Black Lives Matter leader Shaun King on whether he can dunk.
Sure, MJ displayed superhuman Superman hangtime on reverse layups and boasted a sweet fadeaway jumper. But his skills at holding up banners and devising sing-songy chants really lacked.
Politics so consumes the lives of activists that they want it to consume everybody else’s life. They live a non-sequitur existence decrying novels for their lack of resemblance to op-eds, judging works of art on ideological rather than aesthetic grounds, and drinking the beer that tastes the worst but whose manufacturers show the best taste in causes and divest from Israel and provide a living wage. They ponder the moral failings of people who do not share their desire to turn movies, bakeries, everything into political expression. Sports, a traditional escape from current events, just cannot escape the political zombies looking to eat our brains.
“Republicans buy sneakers, too,” Michael Jordan famously quipped to explain his refusal to campaign for Harvey Gantt in his 1990 race against Senator Jesse Helms in North Carolina. On Monday, Jordan dipped his toe in political waters by condemning “cowardly” attacks on police, “divisive rhetoric,” and the “deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement.”
As far as public comments on controversial matters, this ranks as a fairly milquetoast, pox-upon-both-your-houses, uber-safe statement. It also sees the situation correctly. Jordan, like most sane people, hates nutters assassinating policemen and hates cops killing unarmed black men for no valid reason. To combat all this he gave $1 million to a black civil rights organization and $1 million to a police organization, as Jordanesque a move as a dunk from the foul line. Republicans buy sneakers, too.
Some chose to parse Jordan’s statement to include only the part that suited their purpose. ESPN’s Undefeated website tweeted, “MJ speaks out: ‘I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement.’” What about the “hateful” attacks on police or the “greatest respect” he holds for their service?
Others judge that Jordan split the baby here. “I’m hard-pressed to find out how you can be emotionally moved by the extra judicial killings of black men in this country and then cut a check for $1 million to the police,” the Washington Post’s Kevin Blackistone maintained on ESPN. “The police aren’t in need of funding when it comes to this situation.”
Still others lamented Jordan’s tardiness. New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony praised Jordan in a backhanded-compliment way when he called his “brilliant” statement “about time.” David Steele complained at the Sporting News, “We all might be looking at a different world in the awful, wretched, deadly, hatred-laden summer of 2016 if Michael Jordan had used the platform in his 20s or 30s that he used Monday, in his 50s.”
And that world might look worse than the one in front of our eyes. Michael Jordan leads a decent life rather than implores others to lead a decent life. Walk beats talk any day. Maybe he gambled, used salty language, and mixed it up with teammates. But nobody ever heard of Michael Jordan beating his wife, fathering a dozen illegitimate kids, or fleeing the scene of an accident. Be like Mike, indeed.
Jordan never wore a sandwich board, shouted nursery rhymes through a bullhorn, or plastered the back of his many cars with many bumperstickers. Perhaps he refrained because his time demands better uses of it. Or maybe, just maybe, Michael Jordan just doesn’t agree with the activists.
Jordan hinted at this when he noted that “for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine.” But one needn’t look long for other clues in the statement suggesting that Jordan is not down with the cause. The six-time NBA champion describes himself in the very first line as “a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence.”
Remember when Jordan quit the greatest basketball team in the world to play minor-league baseball? He did it in the aftermath of his baseball-loving father’s murder. Cops didn’t kill James Jordan. They brought his killers to justice. And if you forgot that, Michael Jordan reminded you in the very first line of his statement.
James Jordan’s life mattered. That’s why cops’ jobs matter so much.
Michael Jordan’s relative silence on politics ostensibly bothered his critics. What really outraged them was his failure to full-throatedly take their side. They complain about athlete apathy until an athlete supports something they dislike (See Tom Brady’s “Make America Great Again” hat). Then it’s shut up and play. Jordan understands this, which helps explain why he said something for everyone to hear.
Republicans buy sneakers, too.