Commentary: Is Jim Brown’s Criticism of Kobe Bryant Unjust?

The Hall of Famer’s candid words aren’t likely to increase Laker star’s activism.

Posted: 12/13/2013 12:07 PM EST

Arsenio Hall had to know what he was getting when he sat across the stage on his TV talk show earlier this week with Jim Brown. The two men had held conversations often over the past decades, and one thing Hall knew he could expect from Brown was candor.

Brown didn’t disappoint him either.

Asked to speak about Kobe Bryant, Brown questioned Kobe’s commitment to social issues. He was not just questioning Kobe’s commitment; he was calling suspect the commitment of so many Blacks who have piles of money and high profiles.

Brown reminded Hall of a summit he, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and a handful of other Black athletes held in Cleveland in the late 1960s. It was a different time, of course. America was a ball of racial, gender and political confusion, and a public discussion about race did seem to have more merit when Brown and Ali assembled their gathering.

But inside Brown’s indictment of the enigma that is Kobe was a deeper question: Is there a need for a summit again?

The thought that America is a post-racial world is fiction that not even Dr. Seuss would write. While the racism isn’t as naked as when Brown and Ali held their summit, racism exists, and even more efforts are being made to rebuild the walls between Blacks and whites.

Look at the disparity in health care, job opportunities and education between the two races. Look at the skin colors on the campuses of large, public institutions, which are a melting pot of races. But the races are arriving on campuses from places like China, Malaysia, Japan and India, not from Harlem, South Central L.A. or Chicago’s South Side, and in this global economy, the color that matters most is green and not black.

For a long while, Brown has laid these disparities bare. He’s called out Michael Jordan for the same issue and has been so vocal about political activism that many of his Black brethren have tuned him out. To them, he’s a bitter man trying to stir up trouble.

He is not that. For it would be easier now for Jim Brown, the political activist, Hall of Fame running back and former actor, just not to care; he could leave the fight for equal opportunity unfinished and not demand Black athletes like Kobe step forward to do their part.

Brown knows the Kobe Bryants of the sports world will never take that step. He has seen their indifference in the face of their prosperity. He told Hall as much.

Yet Brown might be asking more than he has a right to ask of Black men with public profiles. Their lives are theirs; they should use their lives as they see fit. Nobody else has the right to say otherwise not even Jim Brown.

“I’d love to see a meeting between Brown and several of today’s top athletes and any athlete Brown has ever questioned,” said a friend of mine, a sports columnist in the South. “I know it’s a pipe dream.”

Dreams in the face of reality always come in second, and the reality that Brown pointed to is a dream of so few. He can bemoan this lack of social conscious in Kobe all he wants, but all the apolitical Kobe will continue to do is cash his fat paychecks and ignore all Brown has to say.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photos from left: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images, Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Audi)

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