Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Tackling Equality on an Unequal Playing Field

A man among boys, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has always stood high above most. His 7’2” stature gives him the ability to make even the biggest men feel small, but it is his demeanor and actions that truly make him a giant.

Those actions were on display November 5 as the 71-year-old captivated a sold-out audience at the University of Rochester. The event was the first in a series that will highlight activists and speakers having discussions relevant to the greater Rochester community. And while his words clearly reached this western New York audience, his message of equality and justice echoed truth that could captivate any crowd.

Being a former professional athlete, the six-time NBA champion knows a thing or two about charming an audience. He acknowledges, however, that in this political climate, professional athletes are viewed and judged just as much for what they do on the playing field as they do off of it, singing praise for one notable star.

I think that it’s impossible to separate what you did as an athlete from what you do as a citizen,” Abdul-Jabbar told Unfiltered Access. “To hear Laura Ingraham, say that LeBron James should dribble and shut up is ridiculous.”

“Athletes can use their platform and position to create awareness,” Said Abdul-Jabbar. “We saw the awareness that Colin Kaepernick created, he wasn’t going to just let society change or guide him as to the fact that too many young black people are killed by police officers for no good reason and that is a fact, he persisted. I admire him for that and I respect his courage.”

For Abdul-Jabbar, it is not that current athletes have begun to step forward and voice their concerns. It is rather what he says is the issues coming to the forefront in societies political life, a political life that the UCLA Bruin knows all too much about. Abdul-Jabbar was named a U.S. cultural ambassador in 2016 by the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

The honor of cultural ambassador came after he had spent much of his post-playing career as a best-selling author, an actor and an outspoken activist. It is the road that Abdul-Jabbar has paved as not only an athlete but as a person that has set up future generations with a roadmap for voicing their concerns, an idea he is excited about.

I am happy to see that the next generation understands what the issues are and that they are approaching it in a way that is both intelligent and designed to make effective change,” Abdul-Jabbar explained.

A part of his legacy has included the native New Yorkers knack for not shying away from controversy and speaking his mind. In a recent book he published titled, Coach Wooden and Me, he detailed that controversy which was best exemplified by his decision to decline an invite to the 1968 Olympics which resulted in what he described as, “a firestorm of criticism, racial epithets, and death threats that people still ask me about today.”


He continued that sentiment was continued at his speaking event in Rochester as he spoke about his desire to interact with American citizens. He hopes to create an open dialogue and to unite the country despite race or religious differences. The former Los Angeles Laker described his role moving forward as someone who must keep that discussion going and facilitate discussion for the American people moving forward.

While neither Abdul-Jabbar nor the crowd at the University of Rochester speaks for the entire nation, it was clear the wheels of change aren’t stuck in the mud. With each empowering answer of hope that Abdul-Jabbar responded with, the crowd would come to a roar in agreement, signaling a sense of ease and common understanding, a win for Abdul-Jabbar and those looking for a change.

In the record books, Abdul-Jabbar scored 38,387 points in his career, and while that would be enough for most that number may still be rising. After his speaking event in Rochester, the dynamic Abdul-Jabbar scored at least a few more points with a crowd of western New Yorkers and is well on his way to capturing quite a few more as he tackles the issues that as he explained, aren’t so black and white.


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