The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is a time of reflection for me. Not only have I been a lifelong admirer of the Drum Major for Justice, I was a deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where I got to know many of his relatives, friends and associates. That's why I'm thinking about the essence of this day, which is to remind folks to engage in public service.
That includes famous entertainers and professional athletes -- you know, whether they like it or not.
As a result, the following was disturbing last week, but it also was predictable: according to a national survey taken by the combination of ESPN and Hart Research Associations, Michael Jordan is the people's choice among blacks and whites on just about everything.
The problem with that? Well, in case you haven't noticed, Jordan is more into servicing his public image than anything else.
Which brings us back to Jordan's lofty place in that survey across racial backgrounds. I mean, what's wrong with this picture? According to that survey, when it comes to other personalities and subjects in sports without a tie to His Highness, blacks and whites were in agreement on about as much as Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama.
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To translate: Jordan is cherished by the masses for selling underwear and keeping his mouth shut about more important things.
There are many ways we can go from here, but two words: Craig Hodges, Jordan's former teammate with the Chicago Bulls and the most striking person ever to tell the truth about the refusal of Jordan to engage in anything that smacked of a social or political cause.
Soon after Hodges began flapping his tongue about what Jordan should have been doing, Hodges was whacked by the Bulls. He was just 32, and he was a noted three-point master, but he wasn't offered a job by any of the other NBA teams. It didn't help Hodges' cause that he wore dashikis, supported Louis Farrakhan and was a booming voice when it came to the selfish ways of pro athletes in general.
A couple of years ago, Hodges recalled his youth in Chicago during the 1960s by telling the website Club Lakers, "My family was part of the Civil Rights movement. I remember when Martin Luther King died, and I walked in my house and seeing my mother cry for the first time. I grew up with Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers.
"All of it was right there in front of me. The impact they had on me growing up was strong. This generation, they look at A-Rod, Jay-Z and Kobe, and they see wealth as a means of success. For me, it was about our culture and our community."
How wonderfully noble.
Even so, Hodges' attitude was absolutely scary to his peers during his NBA playing days from 1982 through 1992, and not much has changed these days. But like the past, when you had a Bill Russell here or a Muhammad Ali there and a Jackie Robinson everywhere fulfilling Dr. King's mission of helping "the least of these" as mentioned in the Bible, you have a Warrick Dunn and a Nnamdi Asomugha of now.
Dunn is a retired NFL running back who continues in his financial and physical way to provide housing for struggling single parents. And he rarely meets a charity he doesn't like.
Then there is Asomugha, a current NFL cornerback, who continues to do everything from leading efforts to deliver food and supplies to orphans and widows in Nigeria to paying the way for high school kids in the San Francisco Bay Area to take tours of colleges as far away as Morehouse in Atlanta and Harvard in Boston.
We just need more Warrick Dunns, Nnamdi Asomughas and the rest, and it wouldn't hurt if the public demanded the same.
But back to reality -- and that survey.
While 57 percent of blacks believed in the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority for head coaching and executive positions, 20 percent of whites did. While 65 percent of blacks said they admired Michael Vick, 25 percent of whites didn't. While 71 percent of blacks said African-Americans have fewer chances than whites to own a pro sports franchise, most whites disagreed.
In general, 36 percent of blacks said African-Americans are progressing throughout the sports world compared to 65 percent of whites.
Yet Jordan was chosen by blacks and whites in huge numbers as the sports figure they admire the most. That survey also asked 100 professional athletes several questions, and among them was this one: "If you were told in the year 2024 that a retired black athlete would be elected president of the United States, who do you think it would be?
Jordan was the overwhelming pick.
There was good news, though. When those same professional athletes were asked to name the three most important African-American athletes ever, they didn't totally lose their minds. They selected Jackie Robinson, and they chose Ali after that.
It's just that Jesse Owens, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe and Magic Johnson had more than a few high-profile moments through the years regarding social causes. Still, when it came to their importance in history in the eyes of those professional athletes, they all finished way behind in the survey's top 10 to third-place finisher Jordan.