Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest basketball players and athletes of all time, also happens to be an author, actor, artist, activist, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. He’s something of a polymath, to say the least. He also happens to be a contributor to The Guardian. In his latest article, he brought up an excellent point — that professional athletes, many of whom are Black, have rekindled “the ember of hope” for Black Americans. He’s absolutely right.
Ordinary citizens with extraordinary talent are using their clout to uplift and stand for what is right. It makes a difference. In ruminating on Mr. Abdul-Jabbar’s words, I came to the realization that what we’re seeing these athletes do is not just activism, it’s a new frontier for American hope.
For the significant majority of Americans, there is so little hope in the federal government and many state and local governments that disenchantment with the American system and the “American dream” can be found from sea to shining sea. When leaders who, thanks in large part to gerrymandering, speak for the oppressive minority and eschew working for polity, it should be no surprise that many Americans feel powerless, unheard, and undervalued.
But as poorly as we are treated and as little as we are listened to, we are not powerless. Our collective power to vote — to choose our own fate as a people, nation, and world — is more powerful than Trump ever could be. That athletes from many professional sports leagues have used their power to stand up and give hope to Black and brown people, to remind them of the power in their souls and their worth as people, is invaluable.
The hope we cannot find in our political leaders we must find in our athletes, scientists, activists, artists, soldiers, and all other extraordinary ordinary Americans. The rich and accomplished lives of our fellow Americans must be the new frontier for American hope and American values. To me, this is a fundamentally American proposition: when disenchanted by our leaders, we turn to each other for support. It’s what our nation was founded on. An amicable populism, one in which we celebrate and find power in each other, regardless of how we look or what we believe or who we love, is the way forward.