Michael Jordan Famously Didn’t Talk About Race — That Doesn’t Mean It Didn’t Shape His Career

Posted November 6, 2023

A new book by sports historian Johnny Smith deconstructs what he sees as one of the most ubiquitous myths around Michael Jordan: that the basketball superstar transcended race.  

Today, many Black athletes are outspoken in movements such as Black Lives Matter or kneeling during the national anthem. In contrast, Jordan spoke about being colorblind and famously quipped, "Republicans buy sneakers, too." Jordan didn't see himself as an advocate for or representative of Black America during his career, and he was criticized for that, said Smith, the Julius C. "Bud" Shaw Professor of Sports History in the School of History and Sociology. 

"But in the long run, Jordan was able to leverage his relationships with corporate America to become a billionaire and the first Black majority owner of an NBA team," Smith added. "I would argue that had he been an outspoken civil rights figure in the 1980s and 1990s, a much more conservative time than we are living in now, he would not have had the same access to becoming a spokesman, and he wouldn't have been able to build the incredible wealth that allowed him to become a pioneer as a team owner and part of the sports ruling class." 

Read the full article on the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts website.

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Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts