During the 1996 North Carolina senate race between incumbent Jesse Helms and Harvey Gantt, the first African American mayor of Charlotte, Gantt called on his state’s most famous resident to help him with his campaign. Michael Jordan declined, famously saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
I thought of Jordan’s apolitical response, when I read about Derrick Rose and LeBron James’ wearing, “I Can’t Breathe” warm-up shirts last night, in memory of Eric Garner, who was recently choked to death by Staten Island police. (Garner’s “crime” of selling single cigarettes hardly required the heated attention of 4 police officers, but that’s a topic for another day.)
There are two truths behind this story. Yes, the police have an extraordinarily difficult job, and the great majority of them deserve our respect and gratitude because they perform their duties with courage and grace. But as recent news stories have highlighted, there are times when some police officers are overly aggressive in their use of excessive force, particularly when dealing with African American males.
In honouring Eric Garner, Rose and James are deliberately violating the NBA’s uniform code, and I applaud them for doing this. But rather than place Commissioner Adam Silver in a difficult position (Does he fine the NBA’s two biggest stars for an act of conscience, and therefore, spark yet another backlash a la Donald Sterling?), I would ask the two stars to take one more step.
I would encourage Lebron and Derrick to donate the money they would be fined to a cause that directly addresses some of the underlying issues currently plaguing the inner city poor. Perhaps Adam Silver would match his athletes and send those dollars to an organization like “My Brother’s Keeper.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper) After all, as hoop fans are so continually reminded, the “NBA Cares,” right?
A gesture like this might be an even better way to keep the memory of Eric Garner alive. And who knows? It might even inspire a certain North Carolinian to do something with all the money he has made over the years, selling sneakers to Democrats and Republicans.