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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Talks ‘Rooting’ For Will Smith, But Cites The Rock And Beyoncé To Explain The Impact Of The Slap Incident

The saga of the infamous Oscars slap continues. Several months have passed since Will Smith slapped Chris Rock live on stage at the Academy Awards, and while everybody has an opinion on the event, the two people involved had remained mostly quiet. But now that Will Smith has spoken out, there are a lot of responses to what he said, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is being supportive of Smith, while making it clear how important he thinks it is to the Black community.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the people who made it clear very early that in his opinion what Will Smith did was very wrong. In a newsletter piece on his Substack Abdul-Jabbar explains why Will Smith’s actions are so important, because they reflect on the Black community as a whole, in the same way that megastars Beyoncé and Dwayne Johnson do. While the former Los Angeles Lakers’ star admits it’s not fair to put so much on one man, it’s still very much the case. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explains…

Yet, some celebrities project such a charming and compassionate presence that their fans look up to them with adoration and adulation. They become role models for impressionable youth. Will Smith is that rare celebrity that men want to hang out with and women want to fantasize about. So, when such a celebrity does something that shatters the image people have, it’s hurtful to them. This is especially true for people of color whose cultural heroes reflect on all people of color. The popularity of a Beyonce or Will Smith or Dwayne Johnson makes all people of color feel a little more comfortable in our skins. That’s why the impact of Smith’s fall from grace is like an asteroid slamming into the Black community. It’s not fair to him to bear that burden, but it’s a fact nevertheless.

Not everybody has responded to Will Smith’s recent apology video well. Some wonder if it’s not more about improving Smith’s own image, which has suffered in the aftermath of the slap, than it is about an actual apology. But while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar may have been critical of Smith previously, he says he’s going to take the actor at his word regarding this apology. He hopes Will Smith has learned the important lesson here. He continues…

I, however, and [sic] rooting for him. One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Richard Wilbur’s ‘The Pardon’: ‘I dreamt the past was never past redeeming.’ We all live under the desperate hope that our past mistakes can be forgiven. Smith’s slap had consequences on many people around the world, but none that require perpetual punishment and endless finger-wagging. We all have shortcomings, celebrity merely amplifies them to the world. Every misstep is an opportunity for growth and it appears that Smith is embracing that opportunity. We should do our part and support him. It’s what we would hope for ourselves from others.

Chris Rock has continued to remain silent, at least publicly, outside of the occasional line from his standup act, where Rock recently criticized people for playing the victim. In the end, Rock will have to be the one who determines if the apology is acceptable. 

Dirk Libbey
Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.