Now Jordan can turn attention to city youth

Marilyn McCraven

October 08, 1993|By Marilyn McCraven

NOW that Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan has decided to sit on the sidelines, let me suggest how Mr. NBA should spend his time:

Turn all of that mournful rage over his father's violent and untimely death and his hounding by the media into a powerful force for leading America's urban youth out of the despair and hopelessness that result in self-destructive behavior.

Mr. Jordan may ask, "Why me? Why not Magic or someone else?"

First, in an age when there are few genuine heroes on or off the athletic fields and courts, Michael Jordan, probably the world's best-known athlete, is uniquely capable of leading all Americans in an urban revolution.

Second, when civil rights leaders are struggling to get a stratified black America to coalesce around issues for the '90s, he appeals to the middle class and the poor, the young and the old, the male and the female. Strong, silent yet massively powerful, he's sort of a modern-day African warrior.

Buppies admire his articulateness and the fact that he looks as smooth in the boardroom as he does on the court, managing an unprecedented number of commercial endorsements. For the brothers N the hood, he's as close to an idol or deity as many have.

Third, the element of surprise would also be on his side. Possibly because of his desire to be as commercially desirable as possible, Michael Jordan has been conspicuously absent from the ranks of the activist athletes such as Arthur Ashe. His politics are not known. Even the jaded would be struck by his active involvement in social issues, not just throwing money around.

Fourth, because of his great wealth and fame, there isn't the suspicion that he's launching a cause to bring both to himself.

So what would he do?

He should begin by harnessing the resources at his fingertips -- Madison Avenue writers and artists, the best minds in social welfare, education, corporate America and government -- to create a massive outreach program.

It should be a program as revolutionary and comprehensive as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. It should be hip yet demanding: Give the guys hanging on the corners reasons to come in from the cold, to exchange the temporary job of drug dealer for the education that leads to a permanent job.

It also should include sports: maybe a nationwide network of midnight basketball leagues that would help decrease crime.

The exact form of such a program would have to be left to the experts, but with Michael Jordan as the center, it couldn't go wrong.

Upon announcing his retirement, Mr. Jordan said he was at peace with his decision. Perhaps a better peace might be found in dedicating his life to a cause that would help thousands of youngsters.

Michael Jordan owes these youngsters more than just three-point miracles and the Air Jordans that many want but can't afford.

Marilyn McCraven is a sports copy editor at The Baltimore Sun.

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