Davis: You're right. What I try to do is to fear-motivate my son. I tell him, "Boy, do you know how hard it was, growing up in Texarkana?" He looks at me and says, "Yeah, Dad." I know in his heart he does not. How can I tell him it's tough? We have seen a generation that really does not understand the struggle that the Jackie Robinsons and the Larry Dobys and people like them went through.
Anita DeFrantz, 1976 U.S. Olympic oarswoman and one of two U.S. members of the International Olympic Committee: Is it because it's not talked about?
Williams: I happened to see Clyde Frazier one day in New York, and I walked over to him and said, "Hey, man, I just want to thank you, because you made it a lot easier for me." He looked at me in disbelief. No one says, "This is the reason why I'm able to enjoy the kind of salary that I have."
Washington: That kind of knowledge was passed to me by black coaches like John Thompson, John Chaney, George Raveling. Here I am, 40 years old, and I hadn't realized what Hank had gone through, not until Thompson and others grabbed me and said, "Hey, boy, let me tell you what's going on." Now I try to pass it on to my son and to my athletes. Yet as you talk to them, as Willie says, they look at you as if you're nuts. That's because they can't put their hand on it. They can't feel it. One of the things we don't have is the political activists we had in the '60s. Back then, there were athletes who protested. These kids just hang out. They don't want to get involved in those issues.
Williams: Players are making a lot of money these days, but I don't think there is the commitment to reach back to their communities. That really disturbs me. It seems we're content with what we have. Maybe I don't do as much as I would like to do, but I try to do what I can.
SI: Are we saying that the black athletes at the high end of the salary scale have sold out?
Walton: What has Michael Jordan ever said, other than how much money he makes? What has Bo Jackson ever said about any issue that has relevance to people's daily lives?
C. Vivian Stringer, women's basketball coach at Iowa: Suburban kids will accept Michael as long as he doesn't speak to the issues. Am I wrong in saying that?
Aaron: I think if he has a platform, he needs to speak. A lot of black athletes, as soon as they reach a certain status, no longer associate with the black community. Down in places like Buttermilk Bottom [a low-income area in Atlanta], the kids never see the black athletes. I think that when you have a platform, you shouldn't be afraid to say something, regardless of whether someone says that they're not going to put you on a Wheaties box because of it. I think that Michael needs to speak out, and I think he'll find himself even stronger if he does.
Hightower-Leftwich: So it's an issue of control. The people whose products you endorse control you, no matter who you are—even if you're Michael Jordan. If Michael Jordan were a brain surgeon, he could speak about whatever subject he chose to address. But Michael Jordan the black athlete can't. Why?