Social justice issues have plagued this country long before the murder of George Floyd. If we narrow into only the Sports sector, there is a long history of players and leagues making statements about injustices. Looking back at 2016, the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. He was not the first, nor the last, professional athlete to protest injustice. However, one must ask what else these sports celebrities can do with their status to transform our national injustices, especially when it comes to race and equity.
The answer may be to follow the actions and unity of the NBA (National Basketball Association).
Last year, shortly after the tragic murder of George Floyd, the NBA Coaches stepped forward. They collectively announced their commitments to upholding the league’s deep values of equality, respect, and inclusion.
Moving a step further, the league is engaging players in taking action. On May 13, 2021, NBA announced the creation of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award. This new annual honor will recognize a current NBA player for pursuing social justice and upholding the league’s values as well.
Abdul-Jabbar has been fighting for social justice, equity in education, and community revitalization for years. In 2009, Abdul-Jabbar created the Skyhook Foundation, aimed at providing educational STEM opportunities to underserved communities. Then in 2016, former President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award is sure to make a lasting impact on the league, its fans, and the global community. Recipients of the award will have advanced Abdul-Jabbar’s mission to drive change and inspire others to reflect on injustice and take collective action in their communities. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion honor winner will select an organization to receive a $100,000 contribution on his behalf. The other four finalists will each choose an organization to receive a $25,000 donation.
All 30 NBA teams will nominate one player from their roster to be the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion. The finalists and winner will be selected by a committee composed of NBA legends, league executives, and social justice leaders. The platform that many of these athletes have is huge. In the example of Abdul-Jabbar, he has and continues to use his platform to champion community initiatives and national commitments to pursuing social justice.
This announcement, mixed with the coaches’ statements of last year, clarifies the NBA league executives and team owners, managers, and coaches understand the opportunity to collaborate with the talent—and that together they can build stronger communities.