Michael Jordon, whom many consider the greatest athlete ever to play professional basketball, has a long history of being reticent to discuss politics or state political positions.
Jordon once, according to reports that were never verified, refused to endorse a black candidate in a North Carolina Senate race against a long time racist, Jesse Helms, with the quip: “Republicans buy sneakers too.”
These days in his retirement Jordon is the managing partner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team – in North Carolina, where the far right wing controls most political offices – and he has once again tried to stay away from sensitive political issues.
This weekend, even Jordon spoke out after President Trump at a rally in Alabama on Friday that owners of NFL teams should take action against player’s peaceful protests – including taking a knee when the national anthem is played – by having the team owner say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fire. He’s fired.”
Trump may be recycling his line from his days on The Apprentice, but Jordon made clear that this time the president is not the boss.
On Sunday evening, Jordon told the Charlotte Observer newspaper that athletes who protest, taking a knee or otherwise carrying out peaceful protests, should not be “demonized.”
“One of the fundamental rights this country is founded on was freedom of speech,” said Jordon, “and we have a long tradition of nonviolent, peaceful protest. Those who exercise the right to peacefully express themselves should not be demonized or ostracized.”
“At a time of increasing divisiveness and hate in this country,” added Jordon, “we should be looking for ways to work together and support each other and not create more division.”
“I support Commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA, its players and all those who wish to exercise their right to free speech,” concluded Jordon.
Jordon’s reference to the professional basketball league, which obviously also applied to pro football, put him on record along with other NBA team owners, players, and even the league’s commissioner, as rejecting Trump’s call to treat protesters as pariahs.
The NBA was drawn into Trump’s tirade last week after Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry – arguably the greatest player active in the game today – said he would not go to the White House to meet with Trump, who was to honor him and his team for winning the world championship of pro basketball last season.
In response, Trump withdrew his offer for a visit to the entire team n a tweet.
Trump’s withdrawal of an invitation – which had actually not yet been formalized – came shortly after Curry’s position was discussed on the morning show Fox & Friends, which Trump is known to frequently watch.
“Visiting the president in D.C. is customary for American championship teams,” reported Sports Illustrated online. “Curry, head coach Steve Kerr and other members of the Warriors have been outspoken against president Donald Trump, his policies and his stances on social issues in the past, and Curry’s comments then come as little surprise after he said the same thing in June.”
The Warriors responded in a statement: “We accept that President Trump has made it clear that we are not invited. We believe there is nothing more American that our citizens having the right to express themselves freely on matters important to them. We’re disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have an open dialogue no issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise.”
The Warriors announced that the team would still visit Washington, D.C. but this time it would be to “celebrate equality, diversity, and inclusion – the values that we embrace as an organization.”
On Saturday, Warriors General Manager Bob Myers told ESPN that the team was considering a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture while in the nation’s capital.
Curry had set the tone on Friday when he responded to Trump’s comments in Alabama, where he had gone to support a candidate in a close special election for the Senate.
“You can talk about all the different personalities that has said things and done things – from Kaepernick to what happened with Michael Bennett to all sorts of examples of what has gone on in our country that has led to change,” Curry told reporters on Friday.
“We’re all trying to do what we can using our platforms, using our opportunities to shed light on that,” added Curry. “That’s kind of where I stand on that. I don’t think us going to the White House will miraculously make everything better, but this is my opportunity to voice that.”
Curry was referring in his comments to Colin Kaepernick, who as a member of the San Francisco 49ers last season, kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem, evoking a blast of criticism and an equal amount of support. Kaepernick, despite an outstanding record as a quarterback, has been frozen out of football this season.
His other reference is to Michael Bennet Jr., a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, who in August sat down on the bench when others stood for the playing of the national anthem.
Both Kaepernick and Bennett were protesting the racism in American society and what they see as unequal opportunities based on race among Americans.
When he protested, Bennett told ESPN “It would take a white player to really get things changed because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it – it would change the whole conversation.”
Thanks to the racist comments by Trump, Bennett’s wish came true this past weekend, as white athletes on many NFL teams joined in the protests.
This is fostering many more conversations about racism, but also about the right of athletes – often highly paid – to use their sports platform to share their political views.
Trump has also managed to upset many in his base who are avid sports fans and bring forth comments from some who agree with him.
In his bluster and efforts to paint sports stars who protest peacefully as unAmerican, what Trump has really done is show the huge divide in America which has only grown since he became president.
Trump’s actions and those of his Justice Department and others in his administration have had the effect of rolling back generations of efforts to enforce civil rights laws so that all people, regardless of their color, religion or where they were born, can feel they have an equal opportunity in America.
Instead, Trump has started a race and class battle that is poisoning the atmosphere but is also firing up a new level of activism among many Americans who have just shrugged in the past about the inequalities in our society.
So Trump, by attacking peaceful protest, by his racist actions (even as he denies he is a racist), has done what politicians, money, and media have not been able to do – get people talking about equality, getting citizens fired up to speak out and hopefully in the future to vote in those who do believe America is for everyone, no matter their color or religion.
And if that happens then the voters will have the final say to Trump, and the final words will be, “President Trump, you are fired.”