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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Will Smith's slap 'perpetuated stereotypes' against Black people

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 2022-03-29 Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says the incident where Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock during a live Oscars telecast "did a lot more damage than just to Rock’s face."

While presenting an award at the Oscars Sunday, Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's shaved hair, saying he couldn't wait to see Smith star in "G.I. Jane 2."  Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, which results in severe hair loss, since 2018.

Former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar attends a sports and activism panel entitled "From Protest to Progress: Next Steps" Jan. 24, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. © The Associated Press Former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar attends a sports and activism panel entitled "From Protest to Progress: Next Steps" Jan. 24, 2017, in San Jose, Calif.

Will Smith seemed to laugh at the joke at first, but then got up and hit Rock in the face as he stood on the stage. Rock appeared to be in shock, and Smith sat back down and said, "keep my wife's name out of your (expletive) mouth," twice. 

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In a blog post titled "Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing," Abdul-Jabbar wrote that "with a single petulant blow, (Smith) advocated violence, diminished women, insulted the entertainment industry, and perpetuated stereotypes about the Black community."

OPINION: What Chris Rock did was disgraceful, but Will Smith's violent act was worse 

Although the NBA legend described Smith as a "charming, sincere, and funny" person during their various meetings, Abdul-Jabbar said Smith's act of violence is damaging to people of color because it perpetuates negative racial stereotypes. 

"One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Blacks as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions," Abdul-Jabbar, 74, wrote. "Smith just gave comfort to the enemy by providing them with the perfect optics they were dreaming of. Many will be reinvigorated to continue their campaign to marginalize African Americans and others through voter suppression campaign."

OSCARS: 'Queen of Basketball' doc, 'King Richard' actor Will Smith win awards

Later in the night, Smith went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Serena and Venus Williams' father, Richard Williams, in the sports bio "King Richard."

Abdul-Jabbar said "Smith’s tearful, self-serving acceptance speech" was "worse" than the slap: "The speech was about justifying his violence… Those who protect don’t brag about it in front of 15 million people. They just do it and shut up. You don’t do it as a movie promotion claiming how you’re like the character you just won an award portraying."

Abdul-Jabbar said Smith's display of the "Toxic Bro ideal" can influence others to react in a similar manner. On the flip side, Abdul-Jabbar applauded Rocks' "grace and maturity" for maintaining his composure after the slap.

"Young boys — especially Black boys — watching their movie idol not just hit another man over a joke, but then justify it as him being a superhero-like protector, are now much more prone to follow in his childish footsteps," Jabbar wrote. "Perhaps the saddest confirmation of this is the tweet from Smith’s child Jaden: 'And That’s How We Do It.'"

The tweet from Jaden Smith has over 1.1 million likes on Twitter.) 

Abdul-Jabbar called on Smith to issue a heartfelt apology to Rock. 

Smith issued a statement on his Instagram account, writing, "There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”

“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally," Smith wrote. "I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be."

MORE: Athletes bravely fight autoimmune disease Alopecia 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Will Smith's slap 'perpetuated stereotypes' against Black people

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