Sports | June 4, 2020 1:52 pm

Why Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan Broke Their Silence for George Floyd

Floyd's murder at the hands of Derek Chauvin finally got Jordan and Woods to speak out

Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods during a 2007 Pro-Am.
Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods during a 2007 Pro-Am.
t Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are inseparable from the many iconic images that have attended their careers: Jordan soaring from the foul line during the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1987; Woods raising his arms in triumph after winning his first major championship win in 11 years at the Masters in 2019. These are milestone moments that will remain burned into our memories for as long as we live.

Another such moment — horribly, tragically and disgustingly — is the one of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee onto the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes on Memorial Day 2020, murdering him in cold blood. That moment, which was captured on cellphone video from multiple angles and then spread like wildfire across the internet, prompted a wave of protests in Minneapolis and across the United States, which are continuing as you read this.

It also led 57-year-old Jordan and 44-year-old Woods — both of whom have been criticized in the past for their reluctance to engage in discussions about racial inequality in America — to issue statements on social media in the days after Floyd’s death.

“I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry,” Jordan said. “I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.”

“My heart goes out to George Floyd, his loved ones and all of us who are hurting right now,” Woods added. “I have always had the utmost respect for our law enforcement. They train so diligently to understand how, when and where to use force. This shocking tragedy clearly crossed that line.”

It should have happened sooner, but the graphic video of Floyd’s murder and the impassioned response it drew was enough to get two of America’s most famously apolitical athletes to break their respective silences.

Feeling free to murder someone in broad daylight under the guise of enforcing the law is not a partisan issue — it is a simple matter of right and wrong. It’s personal, not political. To their credit, Woods and Jordan decided to be on the right side of history, breaking from their typical controversy-averse behavior to address the situation and, hopefully, make an impact.

Of course, it is only fair to mention that another reason Jordan and Woods — both of whom are career Nike athletes — may have felt comfortable to speak out now is that they know it won’t hurt their bottom lines. Nike has partnered with another ambassador, Colin Kaepernick, on an ongoing campaign that highlights racial inequality in America, and the public’s reception of that campaign has been largely positive. In the 14 months after Nike made the controversial decision to feature the former NFL quarterback as the face of a new ad campaign in September of 2018, the apparel company’s value rose by more than $26 billion.

Clearly, if Jordan and Woods were worried about certain segments of the population not buying their sneakers or golf clubs based on their stance on societal issues, the response to Kaepernick has helped assuaged those concerns.

Admittedly, that’s a cynical — although not completely unique — way to look at Jordan and Woods opting to speak out, and the manner in which people have embraced Kaepernick may not have been a factor in their decisions to do so at all. Ultimately, the important thing is that Jordan and Woods went on the record to condemn what happened to Floyd and voice their commitment to changing the systemic issues that allowed it to occur so easily.

Perhaps it would have been a bit more powerful if they had spoken out the way LeBron James did — almost immediately after Floyd was killed instead of waiting nearly a week — but better late than never.

Now that they’ve made their voices heard, we can only hope that Jordan and Woods continue to use their platforms to call for the changes that athletes like Kaepernick and James have long been advocating for. If they do, perhaps other athletes who usually stay silent on societal issues will join them, rather than playing it safe to appease all sides.

UPDATE

A little more than 24 hours after this article was published, Jordan and the Jordan Brand announced a $100 million donation to causes that will ensure racial equality, social justice and greater access to education that will be spread out over the next decade.

Hopefully, more star athletes and brands that can afford to follow Jordan’s lead.

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