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Social Justice Jordan Is Following The Same Profitable BLM Path Of LeBron, Kaepernick

In the past few weeks, Michael Jordan has spoken out in favor of Black Lives Matter, pledged to donate $100 million of his own (and Nike’s) money toward social justice causes and now, this week, started a new NASCAR Cup team, making him the first Black majority owner of a fulltime NASCAR team in nearly 50 years.

“In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing,’’ Jordan said in a statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.’’

What’s going on here? It’s obvious: Someone has taken over Michael Jordan’s body and is now impersonating him. Somehow, Air Jordan has transformed into Social Justice Jordan.

Has Michael Jordan changed, or is he just blowing with the winds? Anyone who watched Jordan’s career knows that he, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once said, chose “commerce over conscience.’’ BLM meant just one thing, and that’s a campaign to sell shoes: Be Like Mike.

If Jordan has reached some sort of epiphany as he has gotten older, then so be it, good for him. But it’s hard not to wonder if Social Justice Jordan is just the latest Nike campaign or if this is coming straight from his heart. 

Or if there’s any difference between those two things. Until recently, it wasn’t clear that Jordan had this sort of heart. 

What are we seeing here exactly? Jordan spent his career as the greatest in the world at two things: Basketball and corporate branding. He really could fly at both things.

When he was a player, the times made it harder to be Social Justice Jordan. He didn’t want to jeopardize his own carefully crafted brand. Remember that as a player, he declined to support a Black candidate for Senate over Jesse Helms in his home state of North Carolina because, as he famously said “Republicans buy sneakers, too.’’

Well, sneaker companies buy BLM now, too. With athletes empowered to speak up, it’s safe — maybe profitable? — to be Social Justice Mike. Is MJ following LeBron?

Surely, most people standing up for social causes are just trying to do good. But it’s undeniable that corporate interests such as Nike or Apple or Coke or really any brand try to use BLM to portray themselves as a progressive, hip brand. They do that with progressive values all the time, latching on to liberal causes to sell more shoes, drinks, iphones or whatever.

Maybe that’s just too skeptical. I don’t believe for a minute that Jordan is a puppet. He’s making his own decisions, is his own brand.

Jordan is 57 now, and the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Four years ago, he donated $1 million to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Institute for Community-Police Relations, and another $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. At the time, according to Forbes, he “cited the reactive incidents between African Americans and police officers that had caused a subsequent loss of life on both sides.’’

But recently, his public efforts have stepped up. In June, he and Nike’s Jordan Brand announced that they’d donate $100 million over 10 years toward causes that promote racial equality and social justice.

He made the announcement weeks after the killing of George Floyd, which Jordan told the Charlotte Observer was “a tipping point.’’

Upon Floyd’s killing, Jordan issued a statement that he was “deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry . . . I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.’’

And now, this week, he and Denny Hamlin formed the racing team with Bubba Wallace as the driver. Wallace is the only Black driver at NASCAR’s highest level.

Jordan said that he grew up in North Carolina as a NASCAR fan, and that recent changes in NASCAR to be more inclusive made the move appealing.

So which one is Social Justice Jordan? Is he a rich guy at a changing moment in his personal life, trying to do good? Or is he a corporate brand, refreshing his image and  jumping aboard an opportunity in a way that wasn’t comfortable for him before?

Maybe in his case, person and brand can’t be separated.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

16 Comments

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  1. Greg – couple of comments. You may want to edit as you say “George Floyd shooting “. We know Floyd was never shot rather suffocated by a racist cop.

    Also, not sure if Jordan donating to black causes (ie NAACP) makes him fully engaged with BLM movement. Finally, he is making an investment into NASCAR. Jordan has said he appreciates NASCAR engaging in social justice causes and equality. Nothing wrong with that. Plus Bubba was on the sidelines as essentially a free agent in that he is no longer with Petty Racing.

  2. While I won’t be buying any Nike products, and while I vehemently disagree with the way Nike is operating these days, I’m rooting for Jordan to be successful in NASCAR. I think he’s a capitalist at heart. He’s certainly smarter than Lebron and most other woke fools in the NBA. And maybe if he’s successful, others in the NBA/BLM bubble will realize the lunacy of wanting to tear down the country (Of course, as crazy as 2020 has been, I can’t rule out Jordan himself becoming woke. I pray he doesn’t go “woke”, and I don’t think he will, but I just can’t rule it out.)

  3. Boy, systemic racism really hurt Jordan’s basketball and post basketball careers, didn’t it. First off, I’d like him to list evidence of systemic racism. Perhaps he is talking about the corrupt, single party Democrat run big cities where the suffering of black people is by far the greatest in this country. I think what is going on here is just another corporate money grab aligning himself with BLM and SJ. He’s a little late to the party however. BLMs reputation is cratering like the NBAs TV ratings. I predict those companies that have attached themselves to BLM will soon rue the day they did.

  4. Once again, it pains me to watch such high profile, public figures buy woke misinformation to base their entire perspective on. If you accept the woke premise, with absolutely no direct evidence, that there’s real systemic racism pervaded through America in 2020…you’ve drunk the koolaid. Reality is simply over for you. It’s the most ridiculous and offensive, racist, ignorant accusation I can imagine someone making against this country after we ENDED systemic racism through the work of MLK.

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