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“Black lives are at risk. Serious risk,” the NBA legend wrote in an essay for WebMD as he advocates for better health care for Black Americans

By Julie Mazziotta
December 09, 2020 07:00 AM
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
| Credit: Jai Lennard/History

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar revealed that he previously battled prostate cancer in a new essay, in which the NBA legend calls for better health care for Black Americans.

Abdul-Jabbar, 73, wrote for WebMD that he has dealt with “prostate cancer, leukemia and heart bypass surgery” over the course of his life. But, the six-time NBA champion said, he has been luckier than most Black men and survived it all.

“I’ve been fortunate because my celebrity has brought me enough financial security to receive excellent medical attention. No one wants an NBA legend dying on their watch. Imagine the Yelp reviews,” he joked, adding that he also benefits from having two sons in medical fields.

“But while I’m grateful for my advantages, I’m acutely aware that many others in the Black community do not have the same options and that it is my responsibility to join with those fighting to change that. Because Black lives are at risk. Serious risk.”

Abdul-Jabbar wrote that U.S. society is posed to collapse “if we don’t address the underlying rot of systemic racism.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing for the Lakers
| Credit: Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty

Along with focusing on the issues of police brutality that were at the center of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, the Lakers star said, the inequalities in health care need a solution.

“The more insidious and damaging threat to the health, lives, and economic well-being of Black Americans is a health care system that ignores the fact that, though they are most in need of medical services, they actually receive the lowest level,” he said.

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There is not one cause of the higher death rates for Black people, particularly Black men, Abdul-Jabbar said, but several — the disparities in education, which in turn lead to fewer opportunities for higher education and better paying jobs with health insurance. He also wrote about the lack of access to healthier foods that could prevent obesity and other health conditions, and the criminal justice system that puts more Black Americans in prison.

Abdul-Jabbar said that the lack of adequate health care is clearer than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Black Americans dying at a rate 3.6 times higher than white Americans.

One solution, he said, is “daily maintenance” to make all parts of life more diverse.

“More Black teachers, jurors, and doctors—that’s our daily maintenance,” he said. “Athletes kneeling during the national anthem, social media banning hate posts, politicians and celebrities condemning racist speech, police not profiling based on race, companies committing to financially supporting organizations fighting racism—that’s our daily maintenance.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama
| Credit: Leigh Vogel/WireImage

Abdul-Jabbar has teamed up with UCLA Health as an ambassador, “to reach out to the Black community to make sure they were receiving the medical and health information that could save their lives, just as it had saved mine,” he said.

“The future of equity for Black Americans starts with physical and mental health, and as long as they are at the end of the line for services, true equity can’t happen,” he said. “Black lives have to matter in every aspect of American society if they are to thrive.”