The video above is a critique of Dr. Boyce Watkins criticism of Michael Jordan. Scoop Jackson article praising Jordan for his contributions to the black community inspired both videos. Jordan has always been a controversial figure in the black community due to his lack of activism specifically on robberies committed to acquire Jordan basketball shoes. Many in the black community thought Jordan should speak out and hold events to stop these robberies. Jordan’s protest never happened.
Another issue Jordan did not speak out against was the election of Senator Jesse Helms in 1990 and 1996. A black Democrat Harvey Gantt opposed Helms. Helms was known as a racist and regressive Republican candidate. If Jordan had endorsed Gantt, there is a possibility he could have won and removed a candidate that was not at all sympathetic to black people.
In spite of Jordan’s lack of social consciousness, he has made great strides in business and pioneered financial achievement. He is the only player to transition from player to principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets. He also owns the sneaker brand Air Jordan which is a subsidiary of Nike. These accomplishments have created $1 billion in wealth for Jordan.
In the Watkins video, Muhammad Ali represented a model black athlete. Watkins praised Ali for speaking out against the Vietnam War and a myriad of other black issues. Black Patriarch’s video criticized Ali’s activism. Black Patriarch pointed out Ali has left no institution behind to employ black people, and Ali has not created wealth for anyone but himself. Ultimately, Jordan created tangible benefits as well as inspiration. Ali only provided inspiration.
The goal of this article is not to prove that one athlete is a “liability and one a possibility” as Dr. Umar Johnson would say, but to show that they are just operating out of different value memes. Muhammad Ali operating from the red or ego-centric value meme and Michael Jordan is operating out of the orange or goal-centric value meme. Both men’s contribution within their value meme is worthy of praise.
I classify Muhammad Ali as ego-centric value system due to steadfast rhetoric in the face of harsh consequences. His most notable example of this was his opposition to the Vietnam Draft. As a member of the Nation of Islam, they did not believe in fighting in a war not started by a Muslim. He not only refused to report for the draft, but he also spoke boldly on the invalidity of the war. His refusal to join the war effort ultimately led to Ali not being allowed to box from 1967 to 1970, which could have been the prime of his career, in addition to five years in prison.
It is important to remember when someone speaks about an ego-centric value system that is not the same as a self-centered value system. Ali did not report to the draft because he felt the war was unjust. The NOI influenced him, but even his decision to join NOI was based on his assessment of the movement and not what was socially acceptable. His ideals created the basis for his value system. His decision to not join the draft gave voice to millions of disenfranchised black people fighting and not fighting in the war. Ali’s life shows when a person is acting from his core principles; he is a benefit to everyone.
One of the drawbacks of operating in the ego-centric value system is unintentionally hurting others with your actions. After Ali’s boxing exile he made one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. The culmination was the rivalry between Ali and Joe Frazier. Ali taunting Frazier through the media preceded each of their three bouts. The insults hurled against Frazier included calling him stupid, claiming all the Frazier fans were Klansmen, and calling Frazier a gorilla. These insults are reminiscent of the most hurtful stereotypes of black men. Also, Frazier grew up in the slums of Philadelphia, and his contribution to the black empowerment struggle should not be discounted. Ali made the same mistake many other people in the red meme make, self-aggrandizement and unintentionally hurting other people with your actions.
I classify Michael Jordan as goal-centric. My assessment is not solely due to his six championship rings, achieving his goals were always first in his mind. As mentioned earlier, Jordan did endorse Harvey Gantt and help to remove Jesse Helms from office. It is questionable how much good it would have done. North Carolina was a heavily Republican state, and many people would not have voted for a black senator at that time in North Carolina. However, his quote will live in infamy “Republicans buy sneakers too”. Understand he did not evaluate the situation and determine what decision best fits his core principles. He decided what move will not hinder the building of my billion dollar brand.
Now that we have solidified he is goal-centric let us look at the results and see if he accomplished his goals. As mentioned earlier, he is now worth 1 billion dollars and owns two major businesses, Air Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets. He has given today’s athletes a blueprint on how to convert their physical talent into a brand that can create inter-generational wealth. Owning a sports team may never enter the consciousness of a young black athlete if it was not for Michael Jordan. His businesses are currently providing jobs for numerous black people. He has left behind a tangible legacy that many black people can emulate.
In conclusion, both these men did things that helped and hurt the black community. They are just people like the rest of us. When observing them, we should keep in mind the social context they were working within and the values that drive them. One man will never fully embody our aspirations. It is important to see things the way they are and not through some overarching ideal.