NFL great Jim Brown excoriated Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers in a 2013 interview where he said Bryant was “confused about African-American culture,” and explicitly stated he would not be a part of a current roundtable discussion with Black athletes:
“In the days when we had a summit and we called the top black athletes together to talk to Muhammad Ali about his status with the armed forces, there were some athletes we didn’t call. If I had to call that summit all over, there would be some athletes I wouldn’t call. Kobe would be one of them.”
Ten years earlier, Kobe Bryant accepted a Teen Choice Award for Favorite Male Sports Figure. During the speech, Bryant said “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Fox television network omitted Bryant’s speech from its broadcast.
Kobe Bryant’s statement about injustice went ignored. Instead of earning credibility with the elders, his gleaning from Dr. King was viewed as an act of disrespect.
Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, Kobe Bryant spoke at a peace walk in his honor at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, California. The move caught the media off-guard because Bryant’s people did not inform them that he’d be in attendance.
“Players such as myself and others who have the platform, our responsibility is more than putting the ball in the basket but helping them have the platform to tell their story,” said Bryant, referring to Trayvon Martin’s parents.
When former Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks were exposed, Bryant was one of the first NBA superstars to call for his ousting.
After a grand jury acquitted Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed teenager Mike Brown, Kobe Bryant swiftly took to Twitter:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 25, 2014
Bryant didn’t call for peace. He used his pulpit to shed much needed light on the current state of systematic lynching.
NBA All-Stars LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Kyrie Irving have worn “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts over their uniforms before recent games in response to a grand jury not indicting officer Daniel Pantaleo for choking Eric Garner to death. Los Angeles Dodger owner Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson praised James taking a stand while risking business relationships with corporate sponsorships.
To Mr. Brown: Have Kobe Bryant’s actions earned him a seat at the summit? What makes his words about injustice any less valid than Muhammad Ali’s? Will the elders finally accept that the younger generation gets it?
Whether it be blacking out profile pictures on social-media, or voicing opinions that others may find controversial , today’s athletes are showing that they posses the consciousness and courage to bring about change.