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August 05, 1991
SI gathered 10 prominent sports figures in Chicago recently for a discussion about what has happened to the black athlete since 1968
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August 05, 1991

'a Lot Of Things Seem To Be Better, But...'

SI gathered 10 prominent sports figures in Chicago recently for a discussion about what has happened to the black athlete since 1968

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Stringer: A lot of people believe these athletes are making too much money, that's why. If they're going to make that kind of money, they must keep their image and everything else about them—and that includes speaking out—intact.

Washington: Now, wait a minute. Michael does have a social conscience. I've sat in meetings with him during the Nike shoe controversy of last year [when Operation PUSH organized a boycott of the company, claiming it wasn't doing enough to help blacks], and while he did not come out publicly, he and Spike Lee and John Thompson, who are all paid very well by Nike, resolved that situation. I don't think that every person has to come out publicly, because a lot of times people of power can do things behind the scenes.

DeFrantz: I resent being told that I have to learn about issues from people who aren't experts. With all respect to Michael Jordan—and I happen to know that he and his family care deeply about a whole lot of things—should he be telling us what's going on in the Gulf? Why is it that athletes have to be spokespersons on issues?

Walton: I think everybody should speak up on issues. I don't think you have to be an expert to talk about something. I mean, you have your feelings, you have your thoughts and you have your opinions.

Washington: And I would also venture that if Buck had tried to do the same things that Bill had done in college, with the protests and such, Buck would not be sitting here talking about becoming a general manager. The mentality is that if you speak out, the penalties are going to be so harsh against you that it will affect your entire livelihood.

Williams: No question about it. A lot of black athletes feel that if they speak out, their shoulders had better be strong enough to carry the burden. I idolize Jack Johnson. I talk about him all the time, because he was the first black heavyweight champ. And what I like most about him is the fact that he was his own man. He was not going to let anyone tell him what his place was in society. Anyone who speaks up today is labeled. People say you have an "attitude." Players today are afraid to get that label. A lot of them say things in the locker room that they would never, ever say publicly.

Walton: Today's athlete doesn't have to be antagonistic, he doesn't have to say things that create a conflict, but I think he does need to say, "Hey, this is wrong, and this is right."

Aaron: We owe it to our children not to sit back and say, "I'm worried that if I say something I'm not going to get a Nike contract." If Michael is going around scared to say something, he shouldn't be able to look himself in the mirror. If we show ourselves to our kids as the type of people who say, "I can't say anything because I'm afraid I can't get this contract," we're going to have another generation of kids growing up doing the same thing. And we can't afford to do that.

SI: Why is sport being asked to fix society's problems?

Davis: Because sport has always been the sunshine to a better way of life. Even today, society looks to sport for much of what it anticipates about race relations. That's why I'm concerned that there seems to be this growing resentment by some to what is occurring in sports, because I think there are a lot of people who still depend on sports for that good example.

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