Sports legend Michael Jordan has courted controversy after speaking out on the recent spate of police-involved shootings sweeping through the country. In a prepared statement released Monday, the former Chicago Bulls star declared that he could “no longer stay silent” after watching the “deeply troubl[ing]” cases of violence against both unarmed civilians and police officers in the line of duty."
“As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man,” Jordan’s statement read, “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. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.”
The statement went on to announce two separate charitable donations: One million dollars each to both the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s fledgling Institute for Community-Police Relations.
Jordan’s statement and actions are remarkable examples of balance and sincerity. But evidently this is not enough for ESPN commentator, Washington Post columnist, and University of Maryland professor Kevin Blackinstone, who used his regular perch on the sports discussion show Around the Horn to denounce Jordan and his donations.
“I’m hard-pressed to find out how you can be emotionally moved by the extra judicial killings of black men in this country and then cut check for $1 million to the police,” Blackinstone sniffed. Blackinstone went on to criticize the NAACP as an out-of-date organization and wondered aloud why Jordan couldn’t have paid the sum to the Black Lives Matter movement instead.
As racial tensions reach a boiling point in many American cities, this is precisely the wrong sort of reaction to take to Jordan’s good-faith efforts at peace-building.
Even this many years after his prime, Jordan serves as a larger-than-life role-model to millions of young people (of all colors); his public plea for reconciliation and healing is a message that deserves to be encouraged. It is unclear what purpose Blackinstone thinks he is serving by insisting on a zero-sum view of race relations. Nor did Blackinstone give any indication that he understood the police organization Jordan had supported existed solely to help departments detect and eliminate their own “implicit bias.”
It’s easy to criticize, especially during a crisis. What’s harder is to focus deliberately on constructive steps forward. Let’s hope more community leaders and celebrities like MJ don’t get discouraged because of the short-sighted nastiness we’ve seen so far from the sneering commentariat.