“I Can’t Breathe”

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.

 

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12 Responses to ““I Can’t Breathe””

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with you, I think that there is too much protest and not enough action. It is interesting because I had the same conversation with my black roommate about Lebron wearing the shirt. And he did bring it up how Jordan did not want to get involved in political disagreements. Think that the difference between the two stars is that Lebron is ok with voicing his opinions on race in America, whereas I don’t think that Jordan was concerned with the matter. MJ was more concerned with problems directly facing himself (his contract, the design of his new sneaker etc.)

    When I talk to my roommate about what needs to be done to change the problem, he thinks that the peaceful protests are great. He admires what Lebron and his fellow players did, but does not think that it is the player’s responsibility to donate their money for projects to help intercity youth, and single parent homes. He blames the institution of the United States and believes that the problem is systemic. My roommate is one of my best friends at Emory but I am disappointed in his response to the problem. It seems like blacks feel powerless and cannot change the status quo. But if not now, then when? I know that to change American’s perception of race is not going to happen overnight, but the black community has rallied together and race relations are a major talking point in the media today. During the Civil Rights Movement, peaceful sit-ins and rallies helped initiate court cases about equality and encouraged African-Americans to enroll at previously all-white universities. These rallies and protests need to materialize into a change in American society. I just think that someone in the black community needs to begin to actually bring about change (not Lebron, but possibly Obama when his term as President is over).

    Obviously, it is difficult for me to relate exactly what my roommate is going through. I would never have known how suppressed black Americans feel until listening to my roommates daily life and how he feels about the matter. It is a difficult question with not an easy solution.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    While I think the New York incident with Eric Garner is represented well in your article – I am surprised at your applauding a deliberate violation of the uniform code. It seems very selfish and self-focused to decide, on purpose, to do that. I do not see that moving us all to a better world.

    I think there are MANY MANY other straight forward and VERY public ways that Lebron James could have made an effective impact on this situation.

    I respectfully disagree with your applause for Mr. James’s decision. I think it might send a bad signal to younger people that breaking the rules is OK if you think you are special enough or you think the issues is important to you individually. Not all cases will this be good.

    I agree with the notion that he could/should speak out on this topic – just not that way.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    A wonderful and creative response – donate the amount of the fine. Both sides win (not always possible).

    I read in my devotional today (Matthew 7:14): “It would be good today for us to stop and seriously look at the road we are traveling. Is it wide and crowded?” Your idea is for those on the less traveled narrow road. Everyone can wear a t-shirt.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Elegantly put. I love basketball, but I will need to learn the facts — I am really out of the sports news. I often joked that Lebron et al caused me spiritual upliftment when watching them with the heat, which caused lots of angst in my son, then 9, rooting for the Spurs. We now watch basketball together and it is in fact due to my current misunderstanding of my son’s former distaste for Lebron while with the heat (nothing to do with LJ’s character) that I owe Lebron a debt — he brought my son and I closer together. Too odd to articulate on email. Anyway, guess I’m biased pro-Lebron:)

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Love this. He’s worth about $270M. I wonder what his Foundation gives each year.

    Jordan, actually, puts his money to philanthropic good use, not just PR. See this 2008 article in Forbes about how much celebrities REALLY give to charity (vs public perception of same). Oprah and Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie are at the top (Pitt Jolie give 25% of their income) and Jordan is 5th.

    http://www.forbes.com/2008/11/24/oprah-philanthropy-celebrity-biz-media-cz_dkr_1124charitycelebs.html

    Good blog post, Dr. P.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I bet this whole racial scene looks different from Canada. I’ve been in a fight with an old pal on the topic for weeks as he is being racist in my book, not owning or understanding his white male privilege. Then at a dinner party last weekend, my dopey nephew spoke up pro-police, and my daughter lost no time in schooling him on his myopia. In a strange way, it made me have hope that this next generation might get it right. Still, I am sickened by Ferguson and Staten Island stories and the lack of justice in 2014. Loved your piece… So true, we need to work at the root of the problem if we will to correct this centuries-old disease in the US.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    What a thoughtful, constructive idea — and a way to give Adam Silver a way forward. Maybe the money goes to both help urban poor and help police reform their work; maybe that’s too much to ask. But thanks for passing this on — a big step beyond mere symbolism…

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Bold and beautiful. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Jim,
    Well said.
    Although I agree that the many forms of abuse that are in the news need to be exposed and denounced,
    I see the ultimate challenge for harmony in the USA includes solving the black/white race issue by putting front and center, the core teaching of pastor MLK and applying his plea to how we reference each other as people.
    We should all be known, not according to the colour of our skin but by how we live according to the character of our heart. Racial profiling ? Affirmative action ?

    Christianity is the only world view that teaches we are all created in the image of God.
    Taking God out of North America leaves us as “ one nation under”.

    Galatians 3:28New International Version (NIV)
    28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    The more our leaders reject Christ, the worse things will get.

    I do not like the thought of the alternative to a spiritual revival in North America.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Well done. Send it to ESPN?

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Hmm!
    Another thought provoking piece, Jim.

    Thank you.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    excellent suggestion

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