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Volume 4, Number 3
March, 1999

The Professor Like Michael Jordan Needs a New Job...

by The Professor

Sometimes the old man wonders just what it takes to make some people happy.

For instance, let's say you've just brought down the curtain on the greatest basketball career the sport has ever seen. You've won multiple NBA titles, scoring titles, League MVP awards, All Star MVP awards, Slam Dunk contests, Olympic Gold Medals, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Children of all ages, races, and backgrounds chant your name, you're known on every populated continent. You've become a marketing industry unto yourself, featured in everything from TV ads to major motion pictures. You've literally redefined greatness for an entire generation of, not just basketball fans, but fans of ALL sports.

Now, having accomplished all this while still managing to maintain some modicum of dignity and humility, you take your final bow, turn to your audience and what have they to say?

"Yeah, but he didn't do enough for his people."

His people? "HIS" people? Pardon me for a moment if I sound like some pie-in-the-sky, pot-smoking, free-love hippy from Berkeley but aren't we ALL "his people"

Oh, you mean BLACK people. Oh, I see. So, because Michael Jordan (that IS who we're talking about, by the way) happens to be an African-American he has some sort of unwritten duty to speak out on behalf of his race. Much the way, I suppose, other stars such as Larry Bird, John Elway, or Mark McGwire have take to the pulpit to wage social war on behalf of their own ethnicity.

How's this for a theory? Perhaps Michael simply wasn't interested. Maybe he didn't feel comfortable speaking out on social issues. Or maybe he just didn't have time, what with working his ass off year after year to become the greatest basketball player who ever lived and a sports icon who transcended racial bias.

Apparently that's not good enough for his critics, who, ironically enough, purport to be his "supporters" People like Jim Brown, Spike Lee, and Al Sharpton. Men who, to their credit, have devoted much of their own time and fortune to furthering the cause of racial equality. These people argue that because of his unique stature in American culture, Jordan is in prime position to speak out on behalf of his black brothers and sisters in the fight against racial injustice. That he hasn't taken up the fight is, to their way of thinking, a sign that Jordan has somehow "sold out to the man" and turned his back on his people.

It's ironic, isn't it, that the very people who shout the loudest for racial equality are the first to lash out against those who actually achieve it.

Michael Jordan did not "sell out" for Pete's sake. If anything, he has done more to advance the cause of racial harmony than all of his well-intentioned critics combined. Instead of pissing and moaning about how "a black man can't catch a break" Jordan went out and made his own break. Along the way he shattered one of the most pervasive and firmly entrenched myths in our society: That White America would never truly embrace a Black Superstar.

Michael Jordan was certainly not the first black superstar to hit the American sports scene. Before him were legendary figures like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Henry Aaron, and Jim Brown, to name a few. But in spite of all the remarkable numbers, Hall of Fame numbers in fact, put up by such superstars, none of them ever truly managed to captivate white America. If Hall of Famers such as these were unable to win over white America, it was argued, no one ever would.

Then came Mike. And without so much as a single impassioned speech or protest march he shattered that previously impenetrable glass ceiling that had kept lucrative advertising contracts out of the hands of black athletes for decades. Suddenly opportunities abound for black athletes in advertising. Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Barry Sanders, Kordell Stewart. The list of players who have, and continue to, cash in thanks to Jordan is endless. All because of one man who didn't do enough for his people.

Still, say his critics, would have hurt him to attend a few rallies, endorse a candidate or two, make a speech?

Actually, it may have. You must understand, the overwhelming majority of sports fans are not tuning in hoping to find the solution to America's social ills any more than a 60's civil rights activist would attend a rally to find out if Martin Luther King could dunk. Jordan attained popularity because of his abilities on the basketball court and that's all. As his success on the court grew, so did his popularity. That he was able to take advantage of his popularity was due in no small part to a carefully crafted marketing strategy based on those skills and his marvelous personality. The instant he started speaking his mind on social problems he would be transformed from "Michael Jordan, Trans-Racial Sports Icon" into "Michael Jordan, Black Activist and Future NBA Hall of Famer." Ironically, the very position that Jordan enjoys in the public eye, the one his critics bemoan his failure to take advantage of, might well have been denied him had he done as they wished and used it to further their cause.

Besides, all of this is based on the assumption that, because Mike can "take it to the rack" he also must have some pretty intelligent things to say about other important issues. This is a commonly accepted theory which all to often meets with disastrous results when put into practice, as Reggie White's recent comments to the Wisconsin legislature regarding whites, blacks, Mexicans, homosexuals, etc., all to clearly demonstrate.

Is it asking too much that we allow our sports heroes to simply be sports heroes and leave the social reforming in the hands of our social and political leaders? Must we demand that every athlete who captures the public eye use his fame for the betterment of mankind? Do we really want to, in addition to berating athletes for being "bad role models" also lambaste them for not being "good enough role models"? If so, why stop there? Why not expect our school teachers to work on their jump shots? Or ask police officers and fire fighters to put in some more time in the batting cage? And why not inform our artists and entertainers that they need to practice their place kicking skills? In fact, every single man, woman, and child in our nation could be held up to public ridicule for not being the very best, most absolutely successful and productive human being we can be.

That's all the Professor has to say on this issue. If you need me, I'll be working on my low-post game.

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