DALLAS, June 24, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In sports, players and fans alike experience cultural differences among people and mostly engage on an even playing field – an opportunity not always found in other areas of their lives, concluded a panel of Mayors, former athletes and journalists speaking about "Sports, Race & Politics" at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 82nd Annual Meeting. Video of the panel is available at www.usmayors.org.
Moderated by USCM President Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the panelists included basketball and football greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a six-time NBA champion, and Michael Irvin, a former Dallas Cowboys player, former ESPN broadcaster and currently an analyst for the NFL Network. Joining them were Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and journalist and TV host Roland Martin.
Comments about the Donald Sterling controversy led the conversation but it quickly moved to a larger discussion about race in society.
Abdul-Jabbar said Sterling's comments remind "us we have a long way to go because a lot of people don't understand their own bigotry. Too many people don't get it. They are not even aware of it."
He said he decided to speak out about Sterling's comments, penning a piece for Time magazine, because "the NBA has been my life. I don't want some racist clown being the face of the NBA. That's why I got on my horse."
Anything that happens in sports, Irvin emphasized, is played out on a huge stage, which is why it presents an important opportunity to talk about race. "Sports are huge in this country. We don't get opportunities like this to talk about (racial discrimination) in Fortune 500 companies. To have the conversation is to start to dispel all of the myths … and stereotypes."
Mayor Johnson, who represented the NBA Players Association during the discussions between the NBA and the Clippers' owner, said he conducted the panel discussion "to learn and discuss how sports should serve our communities and how we, together, can be agents of change in our cities and with our sports teams."
Mayor Nutter, who is African American, said many white Mayors want to talk about racial problems in their cities but fear that they will be criticized if they do and if they don't.
"Black males make up only six percent of the population but 43 percent of the homicide rate. That's a problem in cities led by white and black Mayors. We have to be prepared to have someone who doesn't look like us talk about race. We have to create a safe and comfortable space to talk about real issues."
Sports are the only jobs, Martin said, where talent propels a person regardless of their differences. "In sports, we all come together but then we leave the game and go back into the real world ….We should have the same attitude in larger society as we do in sports. Then, we can start to deal with inequality in America."
As Chair of USCM's Mayors Professional Sports Alliance, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard introduced the panel discussion by saying, "Sports represent who we are as a people. We want them to embody our community values, and one of them is respect for all citizens."
About The United States Conference of Mayors -- The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are nearly 1,400 such cities in the country today, and each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor. Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/usmayors, or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/usmayors.
SOURCE The U.S. Conference of Mayors