Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Problem With Jordan

Well, I wouldn’t go THIS far but…

“Republicans buy shoes too.”

This is the quote that doomed Michael Jordan, in my mind, as little more than a corporate pitchman, a shill, completely devoid of social, political or race consciousness. This was in response to those who wondered why the pre-eminent black athlete of his era wouldn’t endorse fellow black North Carolinian, Harvey Gantt in his Senatorial bid against enthusiastic racist, Jesse Helms. This was even after Helms played the ‘race card’ (that’s right – whites have played the race card MUCH longer and more effectively than we) with a campaign ad playing to white paranoia. According to an article from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the commercial became known as the "’white hands’ ad, in which a white man's hands crumple a rejected job application while a voiceover intones, ‘You needed that job...but they had to give it to a minority.’”

I have to admit, I always rooted for Jordan. But Jordan’s response made me wonder if he wouldn’t mind Ku Klux Klan members so long as they were wearing his sneakers under their white robes. Yet, my disappointment in learning that Jordan apparently didn’t give a damn about taking a stand against a certified bigot like Helms, was only matched by my confusion when I saw Jordan backing Bill Bradley in his 2000 presidential bid – AFTER it had become apparent that Bradley would lose the nomination to Al Gore. Jordan admitted at the time that his unprecedented move was not motivated by any particular familiarity with Bradley’s policies, but by, of all things, LOVE: ”I love Bill Bradley and I'm learning more about his campaign as it goes further...But I do see myself supporting him. And I have had some conversations with Bill about it, and I've always respected him as a leader."

“Hmmm…,” I thought. “Nothing especially enlightening in that statement.” Then it occurred to me – a little late, I now realize – that Bradley was a teammate of Jordan’s uber-coach, Phil Jackson, on the championship Knicks teams of the 1970’s. Jackson backed Bradley. Jordan made his aggressive attachment to Jackson known publicly and often. So I concluded (and not, I think, unreasonably) that Jackson called in a favor to Jordan and Jordan, ever dutiful, decided to jettison his ‘Republicans Buy Shoes Too’ stance and support his former coach by supporting Bradley – even if he didn’t really know shit about Bradley’s politics.

Now, I’ve never expected Michael Jordan to be Muhammad Ali or even Charles Barkley for that matter. After all, he’s got a bland, valuable, corporately built and supported image to uphold. But the RBST deal-breaker isn’t the only example of Jordan abandoning his blackness, hell, his humanity, so as not to offend the sneaker buying public. Consider these:

  • "I'm more concerned with my jump shot." – Sociologist Dr. Todd Boyd paraphrasing Jordan’s response when asked for his reaction to the Rodney King verdict-inspired riots in LA.
  • “My job with Nike is to endorse the product. Their job is to be up on that.” – Jordan’s response to Nike’s paying Indonesian workers 30 cents a day when he was raking in 20 mil a year in endorsements.

In the words of Douglas Kellner, author of The Sports Spectacle, Michael Jordan, and Nike: Unholy Alliance, Michael Jordan, like many athletes corrupted by the sports spectacle and commercial culture, has abrogated his basic political and social responsibilities in favor of expensive clothes, commodities, and a megastock portfolio.”

Not that it would have changed history, but maybe all that time I was rooting for the wrong cat.

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At 11:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, I rooted for him as an entertaining basketball player. I didn't give a damn about his political or social views. Seriously, so what? I watch basketball for a couple of hours in order to help forget about the trifles of the world. Not everything has to be a racial issue.

At 4:04 PM , Anonymous viece said...

That is extremely unfortunate to hear. Especially considering that he was on Oprah saying that the rookie sports guys are too indulged and too catered to. It truly makes me rethink every pair of Nikes that I buy. This isn't just a racial issue. It's a moral/ehtical issue. If everyone continues to be all about the buck then the only people saved in the end is the guy after the buck. How can you not be concerned that people are being taken advantage of so that someone can make money? Yes, he was an entertaining basketball player, and I even paid to see him play numerous times, but this goes beyond the court. Beyond color. Beyond a contract.

At 12:42 PM , Anonymous Jason said...

I'm not sure what the anonymous blogger was reading. Of course MJ was a great player. The blog isn't about his play on the court. It's about him being a sellout off the court. Nike pays people slave labor and the only thing he can say is, 'Hey, it ain't my business.' That's bullshit. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way about Jordan.


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