Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks activist athletes, American racism at K-State

Six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks to the K-State community on Feb. 6, 2018, in Bramlage Coliseum. Abdul-Jabbar interviewed with Black Student Union members and answered questions from the crowd to end the evening. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Six-time NBA champion, journalist and social justice activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke in Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday evening. The event was free and open to the public, and it included an audience Q&A session.

Before Abdul-Jabbar came on stage, Darrell Reese Jr., Black Student Union president and junior in mechanical engineering, thanked the sponsors of the event and asked the audience to open the event the same way the BSU opens its meetings — singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The song was led by Zanaiya Peebles, sophomore in biology.

Sheila Ellis-Glasper, owner and founder of the SEG Media Collective and Kansas State graduate, and Andrew Hammond, a Kansas-based journalist, moderated Abdul-Jabbar’s talk.

One of the first questions Abdul-Jabbar was asked was how students can promote change and action. His answer: communication.

“The fact that so many segments of our society don’t talk to each other,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Everybody’s voice has got to be heard.

“We can talk to our neighbors,” Abdul-Jabbar continued. “We can find out who they are, and usually what you find out is they’re just like every other American. They want their family to have an opportunity for the American dream. That’s why we’re all here.”

When asked about athletes who participate in activism and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Abdul-Jabbar said he “wasn’t surprised” by Kaepernick’s protest.

“All you have to do is watch the film of the killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and you will understand what Colin was talking about,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “And I think the pushback against him was as severe as it was because he would not stop what he was doing. He would not leave the issue alone because it’s an important issue to him. And it’s a lot more important than his job was. … He had something important to say, and he said what he had to say. So I have a lot of respect for him.”

Abdul-Jabbar spoke about many different social issues, coming from his experience as a black man and a Muslim. Abdul-Jabbar said we have to critique instances of what he calls “wallpaper” racism, like stereotypes and prejudices.

“If you speak up, the people can’t hide behind your complacency,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

Abdul-Jabbar also offered advice to college students: “Be patient; you’ll figure it out.”

Following the talk moderated by Ellis-Glasper and Hammond, audience members had the opportunity to ask Abdul-Jabbar a few questions. A variety of topics were discussed, such as the NBA’s “one-and-done” draft rule, his thoughts on Islam being considered a sexist religion, how he learned his signature hook shot and even his own colorful UCLA Bruins socks.

Brittany Harden, senior in American ethnic studies, said Abdul-Jabbar’s appearance at K-State is “extremely significant” because of the recent “issues at K-State that have to do with racism and anti-Muslim acts.”

Harden shared what she thought students should take away from Abdul-Jabbar’s event.

“I think they should take away that everybody needs to stand in their truth and be true to themselves and their future and work hard — no matter what your major or minor is … you need to work towards tolerance and equality in our nation,” Harden said.

I'm Dene Dryden, and I graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor's of Arts in English. Before graduating, I worked at the Collegian for more than three years as a copy chief, managing editor and editor-in-chief. I also served a term on the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors. While at K-State, I also worked at Wildcat 91.1 FM. My cat Robyn is the light of my life, and I take compliments in the form of coffee.