Common myths about me: Why was Kareem so mad?
A. You can catch a cold from going outside with your hair wet.
B. You have to drink eight glasses of water a day.
C. Candy makes kids hyperactive.
D. Reading in dim light will ruin your eyesight.
The answer: none are true. A cold is caused by a virus and studies show that those who are exposed to the virus become infected whether or not they are chilled. Most people get plenty of water simply through their normal diet. Experts agree that there is no evidence that feeding children a high-sugar diet causes any hyperactivity. Reading in dim light may temporarily tire your eyes, but otherwise has no permanent effect.
Most celebrities know that this same kind of misinformation can be circulated about them simply because the more outrageous the claim, the more people will want to read it. I’ve been subjected to some of those claims, some outrageous, some merely annoying. And, like the myths I presented above about colds, water, candy, and reading, they persist even though there’s no truth to them. One of the common myths about me was repeated last week when a friend of mine was playing in his weekly basketball league and a teammate asked him, “Why was Kareem always so angry?” That’s not the first time I heard this charge. What’s weird about it is that every morning when I get out of bed, bluebirds, squirrels, and deer help me get dressed while we sing “We Are the World.” By the way, squirrels really suck at tying shoes. And deer often mumble the lyrics.
Even that doesn’t make me angry.
What’s interesting about the question is that the person who asked the question is white. In fact, no black person has ever asked that question. That’s because they already know the answer. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the civil rights movement was at its most intense and volatile level, I often used my celebrity to speak out against certain injustices. This seemed to irritate some people who expected black athletes to simply be silently grateful for their opportunities and not rock the boat. However, being given this tremendous opportunity to play college basketball at UCLA, how could I not speak out to help the many other black athletes who were not being given the same opportunity? To not stand up for integration of college athletics would be to dishonor the brave heroes who spoke out and made my opportunities possible. People like Bill Garrett (who is sometimes called the Jackie Robinson of college basketball), Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, and dozens of others. How could I not be angry to realize that many great players were being denied a college education and/or the chance to play before larger crowds( and therefore be more valuable if they chose to turn professional)? They were being denied a future.
The integration of college sports would have happened without me. But I like to think that I made some small contribution by adding my voice to those who fought to make this a better world. For some, my voice may have seemed shrill or angry; but for those on the right side of the issue, it seemed loyal and compassionate.
How do I feel now? Grateful that we’ve come so far. Encouraged that so many people are still adding their voices to the fight for equality for all people. In other words, I feel happy. Just ask the bluebirds.