Michael Jordan, who achieved fame as perhaps the greatest player in NBA history, spoke out Monday against the recent spate of killings committed by and against police officers.
The statement was consistent with Jordan’s reputation for being cautious when it comes to issues in the public arena.
In a statement released to The Undefeated, an ESPN website dedicated to the intersection of race and sports, Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, North Carolina’s NBA team, said he was “deeply troubled” by recent violent episodes in places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas.
“As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers,” he wrote.
Jordan also used the statement to announce that he was making separate donations of $1 million to two charitable organizations: the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Institute for Community-Police Relations. (Jordan’s net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $1.14 billion.)
The institute, founded in May by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, helps train police departments to form better relationships with their communities. And Jordan emphasized the NAACP’s effort to “build trust and respect between communities and law enforcement.”
In the statement, Jordan spoke of his respect for law enforcement, while also acknowledging the police discrimination that many African-Americans face.
“Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family,” he said in the statement. “I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service.”
He added, “I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine.”
Any kind of personal political comment — even one as moderate as the statement released Monday — is a rarity for Jordan, who has a long history of staying away from contentious political issues. In April, after being asked about his stance on the transgender bathroom debate in North Carolina, the state where he was raised, he issued an impersonal statement on behalf of the team.
“As my organization has stated previously, the Charlotte Hornets and Hornets Sports & Entertainment are opposed to discrimination in any form, and we have always sought to provide an inclusive environment,” the statement said.
A defining incident for critics of Jordan’s avoidance of politics came in 1990 when Jordan, then a superstar player with the Chicago Bulls, declined to support Senate candidate Harvey Gantt in his race in North Carolina against Jesse Helms, the conservative incumbent. Had Gantt won, he would have been the first African-American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction.
An anonymous source in “Second Coming,” a 1995 book by Sam Smith, quoted Jordan as saying that he had stayed away from endorsing Gantt because “Republicans buy shoes, too.” The statement was never definitively attributed to Jordan, but for many critics, it became emblematic of his business-first attitude.
Jordan has broken down racial barriers in the business world. He was the first African-American to become the majority owner of his own sports franchise (as well as the first former player). Within his various business ventures, he has a reputation for hiring other black executives.
In 2014, the ESPN columnist Scoop Jackson defended Jordan from critics who ripped the former athlete for neglecting to speak then about the killings of black men by police officers.
He wrote: “One of the biggest voids we have in America as black people is a lack of ownership. Period. Jordan and Magic Johnson have done their parts to fill that void in the arena of sports.”
He added, “Anyone who doesn’t understand that contribution is just as important as taking a stand or speaking out on issues that concern our race lacks understanding of the true meaning of justice.”
On Monday, Jordan was applauded for his statement by civil rights leaders like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr.
Others cautioned against overstating the strength of Jordan’s stance. Richard Deitsch, a reporter at Sports Illustrated, wrote on Twitter that, while it was “great” to see the statement, “to characterize this as a stand downgrades actual stands.”
Jordan is not the only former or current basketball player to speak out this month against the recent killings of black men by police officers and against the killings of police officers.
During warm-ups this month, WNBA players from the New York Liberty and the Indiana Fever wore
T-shirts printed with the words #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5. (The players were initially fined by the league, but the fines were rescinded after protest.)
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony posted on Instagram asking other athletes to use their positions to take political stances.
“There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore,” Anthony wrote. “Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge.”