Etan Thomas is an 11-year NBA veteran and author, along with Nick Chiles, of “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” “More Than an Athlete,” and soon to be released, “Voices of the Future.” He is also a member of President Obama’s Fatherhood Initiative. To read more, visit Etanthomas.com or follow on twitter @etanthomas36
Basketball players from both the NBA and WNBA participated in an all day fundraiser for President Obama's reelection campaign in New
York recently, signing autographs and running a fantasy camp for the hundreds of participants. The event included a dinner reception hosted by Hall of Fame legend Michael Jordan and league Commissioner David Stern.
It was a festive day. President Obama personally thanked Jordan in his opening remarks for his support dating back well before Obama’s Senate race in 2004.
The fact that so many athletes wanted to be involved in President Obama’s reelection campaign runs contrary to the popular image that professional basketball players are apolitical. It’s important to note that every athlete involved in the “Obama Classic” is wealthy enough to be a beneficiary of Romney and Ryan's trickle down economics policies that tend to favor the rich. It would be easy for us to adopt the greed and the “I got mine” mentality that has overtaken many of the people who share our tax bracket.
The reason for our stance? Many of the athletes who participated last week come from humble beginnings. And we have not forgotten where we come from. Personally, I don't need a tax break, and I think many of us share this view. Teachers, firemen, construction workers, receptionists, farmers, joe the plumbers, those are the ones we need to help along.
It's that mentality that caused all of these athletes to lend their names, time, and effort to help reelect President Obama.
Indeed, on the bus coming back from the fantasy camp a few of the guys were discussing how excited we all were to be a part of something so special. We also discussed the fact that there is a misconception about athletes that we are all afraid of politics. I know I personally get that question all the time as being an "exception". My response is always that the stereotype simply isn't true and that I have witnessed and had plenty of conversations with players who are very passionate about politics.
Here are the thoughts of some of the players, who included Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce and Patrick Ewing. Former WNBA stars Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley were also in attendance.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
This is the first election that I have ever been apart of. My father voted for President Obama when I was 16 years old and introduced me to politics. My entire family voted for him. It is truly an honor and a blessing to be able to carry that tradition. He has my support and my vote. I am not afraid to speak out politically, I just have to become more educated on the subjects so that I can speak intelligently about various topics. But I am definitely not afraid to speak on politics, I just need more research.
John Wall. Washington Wizards
“I think it's a great cause and for all of us basketball players to come out here and support the President...[it] means a lot. The middle class and lower class he's trying to get better jobs for them. It doesn't all happen in four years. It may take eight years to really get us where we need to go. I honestly don't know why people think athletes are afraid of politics - we're not afraid. It's just that sometimes we want to be careful not to say the wrong thing, but we're definitely not afraid. You see by all of us being involved here today that we aren't afraid.”
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
“I want to be part of change. When in was young I wasn't really into politics much but now that I am in the NBA I have a platform to speak on. I want to get involved and I want to help people.”
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets
“I feel it's an honor to be involved here today. This is the first year that I am old enough to get involved. I want to take full advantage of this opportunity to be a part of change. We are like everyone else, we want what's right for the country we live in. I don't think it's true when people say that we don't want to be involved. Look at all of the athletes we have on this bus here today. Young athletes, retired athletes, all stars, legends, rookies, females. We are involved and we are here to support the changes that are going to happen in the United States.”
The thoughts of these young athletes, all in their early 20s, is a stark contrast to the previous generation of black players who often stood on the sidelines. With his public stance for Obama, Jordan seems to have evolved: he is often used as a primary example of a lost generation of black athletes who refused to get politically involved.
In a recent article on ESPN, LZ Ganderson reminds us of Jordan’s infamous “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment that has become the prime example of the overall tragedy of wasted power. Jordan reportedly made the comment when declining to endorse black Democrat Harvey Gantt in a North Carolina 1990 Senate race against Jessie Helms (R).
Jordan had the ability to influence an entire generation of young people especially within the black community. But instead he chose to remain publicly neutral in all matters racial and political. He never capitalized on his potential to mobilize the black community on social issues. Simply put, he never wanted to continue the work of the great Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown, both politically outspoken athletes.As his support for President Obama shows, he might have changed his tune.
The stance that Jordan’s behavior illustrated was referenced in William Rhoden’s book, “40 Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of Black Athletes”, in which the author said: “Isolated and alienated from their native networks and increasingly cloistered into new networks as they become corporatized entities, they are excised from their communities as they fulfill their professional responsibilities and disconnected from the networks of people, in many cases predominately African-American, who once comprised their 'community. This leads to a general ignorance of the issues impacting a vast majority of African-Americans across the country.”
But, what I witnessed was something very different last week. Some current and former athletes may very well fall into that category described by Rhoden. Many athletes are still not as politically outspoken like Bill Russell, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were in the 1960s.
But this is a generation of current athletes who are not “isolated and alienated" as Rhoden writes. Instead, this appears to be a generation of athletes who are very much involved and passionate about helping their community and see a bigger picture than themselves.
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