Sports

Basketball icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says police need to 'understand the problem' facing black people

Key Points
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joined CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Tuesday to discuss the recent protests throughout the country following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minnesota.
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Fighting for justice: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks out on protests, inequities

Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said it's "essential" to keep talking about racism and police brutality toward black people in America following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minnesota.

"This isn't a new issue; this has been happening," Abdul-Jabbar said. "We all need to be respected by the people who enforce the law. And that hasn't happened."

Abdul-Jabbar joined CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Tuesday to discuss the recent protests throughout the country following Floyd's death, the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and the Feb. 23 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. 

Video footage showed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes as he said he couldn't breathe. Chauvin has been charged with murder and manslaughtered. He was fired along with three other officers who stood by and watched.

The incident has sparked nationwide protests and demonstrations.

Abdul-Jabbar called for law enforcement and companies to "understand the problem" facing blacks in America. 

"Certain people among the ranks of police are racist or are afraid of people who don't look like them," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I think all of us would serve this issue if we can make friends with someone who doesn't look like us. I think that is a key issue here, that too much of people's humanity and their right to be a part of the American dream, that's not recognized all the time, and that's very unfortunate."

The former Los Angeles Lakers icon wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, where he supported protesting throughout the country. Abdul-Jabbar pointed to "institutional racism" as part of the reason for the protest.

"The black community is used to the institutional racism inherent in education, the justice system and jobs," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "And even though we do all the conventional things to raise public and political awareness — write articulate and insightful pieces in the Atlantic, explain the continued devastation on CNN, support candidates who promise change — the needle hardly budges."

The image of Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck also drew comparisons to former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt to protest police brutality against blacks in America. Abdul-Jabbar said Kaepernick was "blackballed" and unable "to earn a living because he was saying something that people didn't want to hear."

Abdul-Jabbar said the NFL needs to "prove to all of us that they mean what they say" following comments made by league commissioner Roger Goodell to "address" the "systemic issues"  facing minorities.

"We have to listen to people who are suffering," Abdul-Jabbar said

Asked how owners in sports, especially those in the National Basketball Association, can combat racism and social inequality, Abdul-Jabbar suggested providing more education and "financial opportunities" to underprivileged communities.

"Black Americans are often the last hired and the first fired; we can change that," Abdul-Jabbar said. "There's a lot of positive ways we can relate to our fellow citizens and work on this problem and eliminate it."