Michael Jordan broke his silence Sunday about ongoing racial tensions and violence in America that have been heightened with more casualties from police-involved shootings involving black men, as well as retaliations against police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La. Jordan, himself, has been affected by senseless violence (his father was gunned down in a 1993 carjacking), but also respects police officers' sacrifice and service as he and his family have received police protection as a result of his high profile.
“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,” Jordan wrote in a one-page letter to The Undefeated, an ESPN website that covers sports and culture of African-Americans. “I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.”
To help spur change, Jordan announced yesterday two sizable donations that he gave to organizations working to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Both the Institute for Community-Police Relations (ICPR) and NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) will each receive a $1 million grant from Jordan.
"Although I know these contributions alone are not enough to solve the problem, I hope the resources will help both organizations make a positive difference," Jordan said.
ICPR, which the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) launched in May, aims to build trust through educational materials, training and implementation of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing Final Report.
“What an opportunity for Michael Jordan to do this, and help raise the discussion between police and the members of the communities they serve," said Terrence Cunningham, IACP president and chief of the Wellesley, Mass., police department, who thoroughly vetted the donation to confirm it was actually from Jordan, according to The Undefeated. "The IACP aims to provide a toolbox for departments and communities to come together to discuss implicit bias and police legitimacy, and this is an opportunity to help that along.”
LDF has been fighting for racial justice since 1940 when Thurgood Marshall founded the firm prior to being appointed as the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
“I am so pleased and honored that Michael Jordan will be making this donation to LDF in support of our policing reform efforts,” Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF president and director, said in a statement. “It is an act of true leadership that Mr. Jordan has chosen to use his stature to highlight the importance of this issue to all Americans and by taking a personal stance in support of organizations directly engaged in addressing this crisis in our nation. We are grateful for this support, which will allow us to deepen our engagement on the issue of policing reform at this critical time in our country.”
Jordan had been criticized for not speaking out in the past. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke to NPR last year about Jordan not publicly supporting a civil rights leader running for Senate in Jordan's home state of North Carolina. Jordan allegedly made the controversial statement that, "Republicans buy sneakers too."
"You can't be afraid of losing shoe sales if you're worried about your civil and human rights," Abdul-Jabbar, NBA's all-time leading scorer, who spent his 20-year career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, said. "He took commerce over conscience. It's unfortunate for him, but he's gotta live with it."
However, Jordan has maintained a commitment to diversity within the Charlotte Hornets organizations, of which he is the majority owner and the only African-American majority owner in the NBA. Additionally, his $2.8 billion Jordan Brand from Nike has had an African-American CEO since its inception.
"He’s always been very private and personal about many of these things,” Jordan's spokeswoman told The Undefeated of his advocacy.
She added that the decision to publicly announce the grants happened two weeks ago, but was delayed after the NBA said it would relocate the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte due to North Carolina's law that forces transgender individuals to use the the public restroom that matches their sex assigned at birth. Jordan didn't want to overshadow that news. He had spoken out against the law, as well as former Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling's racist remarks that were caught on tape in 2014.
“Hornets are opposed to discrimination in any form, and we have always sought to provide an inclusive environment,” Jordan said in April regarding the passage of the bathroom bill, according to The Undefeated.
Jordan noted in the letter that the racial tensions didn't happen overnight and therefore won't be fixed that rapidly either, but he hopes working together can result in a positive change and a more peaceful world.
“I was raised by parents who taught me to love and respect people regardless of their race or background, so I am saddened and frustrated by the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late," he said in the letter. "I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent. We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment, and that police officers—who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all—are respected and supported."