Many athletes in the United States have added voice and efforts to the protests against racial injustice and police brutality that have shaken the country for a few months. In the 90s, they were counted on the fingers of the hand. And, like Craig Hodges, they paid a price.
Two-time NBA champion with the Bulls in the era of Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson, three-time winner of the All-Star 3-point contest and still banished from the League. Craig Hodges was too vocal on issues of racial and social justice, too bold in proposing a boycott of a final in protest of the Rodney King or Nike cases. His story is told, in the first person, in Long Distance Shot, a 2017 book published now in Spain by Captain Swing, and gives the opportunity to speak with Hodges, via Skype from Chicago, past and present. And future.
How do you experience this moment of activism, not only in the NBA but in all sports in the United States, in the face of racial injustice?
It’s a fantastic moment. Many young athletes realize the impact they can have where they are, the importance of defending human rights no matter where you see injustice happening. This generation, with the advent of social media, is able to have an instant platform and support base.
It’s very different from when you were in the NBA …
In the 90’s basically if you spoke it was a voice singing in the wind because the media did not give you any coverage. You were alone and the change had negative ramifications. They weren’t looking at your athleticism or your stats, but your political beliefs and your position, whether in social justice or police brutality. And my position has always been that when faced with certain things, I couldn’t sit still.
His biggest parallel today would be Colin Kaepernick.
We are talking about an athlete of 1.93 in height and one hundred-odd kilos who every day played a maximum shock sport, every day he faces another huge player but can’t he raise his voice? That’s what’s amazing: that you can go to those battles but supposedly can’t rise above something like words.
David Zirin (who signs the book’s foreword) says he was going around the NBA asking players why they weren’t tackling social issues and they said, “You don’t want to be like Craig Hodges & rdquor ;. We talk about the financial ramifications of telling the truth, but that hides respect. Those of us who are in it and talk about it also speak on its behalf and that is what makes me most proud.
“No one can
say what is a
it is many things
different. For me
it has been so much
I dream like
At the time we called him “poor honest teachers & rdquor; because it wasn’t about money, it was about truth, and the reward was knowing that we were doing something much bigger than ourselves. There are many people caught in the illusion of “the greatness of being an American” … But no one can tell you what an American is because they are many different things to different people. For my people, America has been both a dream and a nightmare and it is crazy to be able to have both at the same time. You can go to school or have a big game and come home you see your uncle in jail.
Do you see a real change from the point of view of the sponsors, the owners and the NBA?
It is cosmetic, it is as if they said “we have to anticipate this, sell it in a way that does not impact our results & rdquor ;. Injustice, capitalism, corporate racism and corporate sexism are all part of the evils that Dr. (Martin Luther) King spoke of: racism, militarism and economic exploitation. In the context of America, wherever you are, you can see it. And you have to have a firm conscience and know that it has to be not changed but eradicated.
With the case of Jacob Blake (wounded by the police with seven shots) some NBA players proposed radical actions but, after LeBron James spoke with Barack Obama, the boycott was chosen. What do you think of the incremental approach?
They make it digestible – we put Black Lives Matter on the court, a message on the back of your jersey … But you can take off a jersey or you can swap BLM for something else. They are temporary mental fixes that America wants to use again, it is a brain game of divide and conquer. You want to tell young people to contain their moment of energy, which only happens once in a lifetime, and you are repressing it. For what? For whose sake? When I was a coach with the Lakers and we won a championship they didn’t let me go to the White House and Obama was president. Do you understand what I mean?
Nor did they interview him for The Last Dance, the series about Jordan.
When Jordan was a player he wanted us to have the maximum in a contract but when he became the owner he wanted to take back everything we have won. That teaches me what kind of human being you are, what moves you. Obama was moved by power and Jordan by economics, but neither of them spoke of the deaths of children in Chicago and it makes me sick, because they can speak behind closed doors, but in public they don’t call things by name.
Is the new generation better educated about injustice?
I don’t know if it’s not even a question of education. There is a vibration. Many young people have seen a lot of hopelessness in their lives when it comes to violence but this generation is not ready to wait and they want immediate change.
Yesterday I was in a march in my city. They had shot a child 14 times and the police did not say anything to his family and things like that are taking them to the point where they will not wait. They are not concerned with being politically correct, they are simply concerned, they want justice and they want it now.
America is in a quagmire, and a long-simmering pot of racism is now boiling.
Do you think it has to do with Trump being in power, with the most openly racist administration in decades?
America has always been able to cover up racism, it has been able to highlight Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, “special niggers”, pretending that in a way it seats the masses. But with the pandemic, everyone has had time to sit down and watch what happens, not only here but around the world, because it is not just about Trump, if you look at the political structures around the world everything is based on the same.
America are something
older than Trump,
he’s just a pawn
in the game, like
we are “
We can talk about Trump but he is just a figurehead, representative of all those interests and entities that the eight years that Barack was in office fumed. And if you look at America’s racist policies they are somewhat older than Trump, he’s just a pawn in the game, as are we.
What has changed and what has not?
When I was on the march yesterday I thought: we are in the same place where I marched when I was a kid. I was looking, absorbing the environment, reflecting. Whether you are white, black, brown or yellow, everyone wants the same thing: that their families do well, that their children go to good schools … But when it comes time to give up some things so that there is justice for all Many people don’t want to give up their white privilege, including white privilege when you have an encounter with the police.
On the march we were a small gathering of no more than 60 or 70 people, but we were able to cut a main road. I also saw people from outside my community who seem to be more antagonistic, not just concerned with peace and justice. And if it had been Chicago or New York … I could see how they can mix and start chaos and how, even if you are in a peaceful march expressing your rights, you can find yourself caught up in something different.
That is why I participate as a guardian who stays on the sidelines to ensure that things remain peaceful. Because every day it becomes more and more palpable that there are many things moved by the political theater of the Republican and Democratic parties, by the games that are being played. I try to tell my people that we have to study, to become more organized. In the 1960s we had leaders who organized the marches, now it is about the emotional. Then the police didn’t know we were coming, now we let them know what time and where. Much is staged, prepared, and it saddens me.
“We need to remember
to the people who
slavery was the
white capitalism “
There is an organic part and a commercial part and I think that the organic can sometimes be consumed by the commercial one. It becomes a hashtag and we get caught. They say Black Lives Matter and now BLM means something to white people that is not what it means to us as people. When we say that black lives matter we mean it not just as a hashtag but as a reality. All lives matter to me.
The young people I saw yesterday are ready. There are those who speak of a revolution, of a bloodbath, and there are some armed people, but most of us are not prepared for armed struggle. And this is not about armed confrontation now; it’s about a peaceful exchange of power.
There is talk of taking funding away from the police but I tell people that we should push with our tax dollars and start with the economy. You have to remind people that slavery was an economic thing, it was the economic foundation of white capitalism, the foundation of Western civilization. And all these Western empires that have made foundational wealth, generational wealth, feel that their structure is invincible, but I say that all empires have fallen, economic systems have collapsed over a period and others have appeared.