Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s candidness is something we should all live by.

No player in NBA history has more career points than Kareem. But these days, the 71-year-old spends his time writing and advocating for social progress rather than dominating on the court.

During his visit to UR last Monday, he spoke at length about the current political and cultural climate and touched on his experiences as an outspoken athlete. Kareem famously converted to Islam in 1968 (his birth name was Lew Alcindor), and has seen drastic changes to America’s view on Muslims. He told the Campus Times that Muslims went from “under the radar” to “a problem in the minds of the average American.” And he gave his thoughts on Public Safety’s gun proposal, believing community involvement by officers to be crucial.

He’s written multiple New York Times bestsellers, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Though the spotlight shines less brightly on him than during his athletic prime, his name still carries weight in the public conscience.

Yet he, like other well-known athletes, must deal with critics who want him to stick to sports. During his visit to UR, he repeatedly spoke about his incredulity over how Fox News’ Laura Ingraham told Lebron James to “shut up and dribble.”

Kareem addressed this type of criticism by bringing up the social influence wielded by powerful athletes. Why shouldn’t athletes express their views the way every American has the right to, he reasoned.

Kareem agrees that Trump has pushed more athletes to be outspoken. Steph Curry, for example, told his NBA-champion Warriors not to visit the White House before the team even received the customary invitation.

But Kareem focused most on the athlete who most stirred this recent surge of activism — Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, as starting quarterback of the 49ers, polarized the discourse surrounding the NFL by kneeling during the national anthem before a game in September 2016, to protest police brutality and the oppression of African Americans.
Kaepernick had a strong 2016 season statistically, but it ended early due to injury. The next season, Kaepernick went unsigned as a free agent, despite his skills still matching that of a starting quarterback.

He’s still unsigned, and has since filed a grievance against the league for colluding against him. For comparison, Michael Vick returned to the league after serving time for dogfighting. Not to mention the spate of alleged domestic abusers still suiting up every Sunday.

Despite this, Kaepernick’s actions have reverberated. Many NFL players executed similar anthem protests, and those have carried to other sports.

To be sure, sports have always been political, precisely due to their enormous influence. Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali have all taken political actions that resonate to this day.

Perhaps the reason outspoken athletes seem like a new occurrence has to do with social media. Athletes have more ways to express themselves, and can reach the masses in no time at all. (Kareem is heavily in favor of social media because it gives more of the population a voice.)

Outspoken athletes are not new, and they should continue to gain ground as activists. Kareem may have only been here for a day, but we must keep his message close at hand when we hear about an athlete speaking out  — because they may have a lot worth saying.

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