National Press Club

Abdul-Jabbar calls for meaningful discussions to ease racial tensions

October 17, 2016 | By Julia Haskins |

Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called for better dialogue between people of different backgrounds  to ease racial tensions at an Oct. 17 National Press Club luncheon.

Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called for better dialogue between people of different backgrounds to ease racial tensions at an Oct. 17 National Press Club luncheon.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

At a moment of heightened racial tensions, people from different backgrounds must come together to engage in meaningful discussions that drive progress, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said at a National Press Club luncheon Oct.17.

Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, said his latest book, “Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White,” comes at an opportune time, as people are ready to have much-needed conversations about race.

“I had to do this book because it was very important to me because of what I’ve seen going on in this country,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It’s something that has affected our nation for such a long time and we’re just now at the point where we can talk about these things and try to find a solution.”

He stressed the need for groups who have historically been at odds to talk to each other with respect as a way to create real change.

“Unless you can listen with an open mind or express yourself without can’t have that dialogue and that’s the one thing that we need,” he said.

Abdul-Jabbar had a legendary basketball career, leading UCLA to three national championships in the 1960s and then earning the NBA’s MVP title six times during the 20 seasons he played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Now retired, he uses his celebrity to elevate racial and social justice issues.

Open dialogue is particularly important for police and the communities that they serve, Abdul-Jabbar said. He wants to see police agencies working alongside community agencies to promote understanding and overcome the us-versus-them mentality that plagues both groups.

But these discussions don’t take place nearly enough, and people continue to cling to harmful stereotypes, Abdul-Jabbar said. In extreme cases, that lack of understanding has escalated into violence.

“Tamir Rice is dead today because of stereotypes that the police officers in Cleveland, Ohio, had about a young black man,” he said. “This is horrible and we can’t continue to have these things happen,” he added, calling for improved police training.

Abdul-Jabbar expressed his support for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been criticized for kneeling at football games to protest discrimination against black people.

“He wants to make our country a better place for the same reasons that I do,” Abdul-Jabbar. “I’m really happy to see that the movement is spreading throughout some of the other professional sports leagues.”

While protesting can be detrimental to those in the public eye, Abdul-Jabbar said taking a stand is worth the risk. He pointed to boxing legend Muhammad Ali — who put his career on hold to protest the Vietnam War — as an example of an athlete who stood by his values.

Abdul-Jabbar slammed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for comments he described as “really disappointing from an American presidential candidate with regard to race and the value of various communities.” He said that people who hold such views must be made aware of how the policies they advocate negatively affect marginalized groups of people.

Abdul-Jabbar also called on people who have been disparaged to stand up for themselves in the face of bigotry.

Those who have been discriminated against need “the courage to stand up for their own civil and political rights and make sure that the people who unjustly try to vilify them are dealt with,” Abdul-Jabbar said.