Michael Jordan’s Open Letter on Police Respect/Brutality is Too Little, Too Late

July 27, 2016  |  



Honestly, if Michael Jordan wasn’t going to say anything remotely revolutionary, then he probably shouldn’t have said anything at all.

It’s not that anything he wrote in his open letter on why he could no longer stay silent about police brutality and the cop killings, was particularly offensive – at least not as offensive as what is currently public discourse in this country on the issues of race and police brutality.

It’s that it’s too late for him to say anything at all, especially something as cautious as this:

“Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service. I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change.

“To support that effort, I am making contributions of $1 million each to two organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The Institute for Community-Police Relations’ policy and oversight work is focused on building trust and promoting best practices in community policing. My donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s oldest civil rights law organization, will support its ongoing work in support of reforms that will build trust and respect between communities and law enforcement. Although I know these contributions alone are not enough to solve the problem, I hope the resources will help both organizations make a positive difference.”

Yes, we get it, Jordan: All lives matter. Tell us something we haven’t been hearing for the past couple of years.

And while I would like to color myself surprised, what did anyone expect Jordan to say?

In spite of being a multi-championship winning, legendary basketball player, as well as a successful business man and co-owner of his own NBA team, he is also seen by many within the community as anti-Black and unlikable. It’s a reputation both earned and born out of conspiracy.

The conspiracy part helped to position Jordan as some sort of Black version of a evil tycoon super villain who peddles a product that promoted greed, conspicuous consumption and violence in the Black community. The belief is that people kill for Jordans and the actual Jordan took no responsibility – all while cashing in on millions.

As fictitious as the belief is, it is a theory that is only aided by Jordan’s real-life persona, which many have said was downright rude, competitive and antagonistic to other people of color, who he felt were less respectable than himself.

Or as rapper N.O.R.E once told the RapRadar podcast about a chance meeting with Jordan:

“I seen him shut Redman down at a Def Jam Christmas party,” the Queens native recalls. “We were all sitting there waiting to speak to Michael Jordan. N—-s said, ‘Yo, Redman and Method Man is here.’ [MJ] said, ‘F— rap.’ I seen the n—- say that.”

“That s— hurt me. Def Jam Christmas party, Mariah Carey hosting and s— like that,” he added. “He only spoke to Hov…that’s without a doubt.”

The way Jordan, and his cohorts, wanted us to see him was as a mentor. A hero. A perfect family man. A fine example of what can happen when a kid from a rough neighborhood bootstraps his way to the top. But ironically, it was the real and fanciful images of Jordan were instrumental in the deconstructing of a counter-narrative that Jordan – as well as the media and the NBA – had carefully crafted of the star player over the years.

And the dismantling of his image would ultimately come by the hands of a younger, more socially aware, generation of millennial (and younger), who turned decades of the community’s frustration with the legend into the now-infamous crying face Michael Jordan meme.

Or as noted by Ian Crouch in this article for the New Yorker entitled, “How Air Jordan Became Crying Jordan”

“The further we get from Jordan’s playing days, the easier it is to believe that he was just a marketing mirage. This is partly his doing, even if it’s not his fault. While he almost certainly never said “Republicans buy sneakers, too”—as is often attributed to him to explain why he remained mostly aloof from politics and quiet on social issues—he has always been a meticulous curator of his public image, and a vigilant protector of his right to earn money from his likeness. (There’s even mild concern on the Internet that Jordan, Inc., might soon try to come for Crying Jordan.) It’s ironic, too, that, as the man himself becomes inevitably less cool, the sneaker brand that bears his name has become only more sought-after and fetishized, to the point that “Jordan” and “Jordans” mean very different things. Just last summer, Jordan fell victim to a different Web meme while taking questions from kids at a basketball camp. In a gymnasium packed with young people, a camper popped up and shouted “What are those?” at Jordan, mocking the legend’s new sneakers. The entire place erupted in laughter. Getting owned by a seventeen-year-old: the world must seem like a strange place to Michael Jordan these days.

A new generation of basketball fans knows only this earthly, diminished Jordan, and it seems to have decided that he holds up poorly compared to the man who now claims the title of best player on the planet: Steph Curry. Curry, like Jordan in his day, represents a step forward in the evolution of basketball. And he is the centerpiece of a team that not only wins a lot of basketball games (the most ever this season, surpassing Jordan’s 1995-1996 Bulls) but appears to have a great deal of fun doing so. It’s impossible to imagine Curry punching a teammate in practice, or mocking the lesser players on his team. Curry radiates only joy, which, for now, seems as though it will last forever. Of course, Jordan was young once, too.

“I think eventually people are going to recognize the crying Jordan face more than his actual legacy,” a real twenty-four-year-old person told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. Please, put a Crying Jordan face on that millennial. And then put one on me, and on everyone else.”

As some will note, Jordan has given very generously over the years, and mostly in secret.

But as many others will argue, charity, while helpful, is not the same thing as activism or organizing. The money that he pledged to two organizations aimed at bridging the gap between the police and the Black community in no way competes his physical presence at negotiations with state legislatures to overturn the North Carolina bathroom law.

In an open letter where many were hoping to see Jordan finally take a stand for something, he chose to ride the fence.

And while some might be impressed that a man, known for not saying much about race, finally said something, for others his words and charity are too little and too late.

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