In an editorial for WebMD, the NBA icon discussed his likelihood of having health complications and a shorter overall lifespan as a 73-year-old Black man. “In keeping with the statistical risks,” Abdul-Jabbar revealed that he has had prostate cancer, leukemia, and heart bypass surgery.
He admitted that as a celebrity he has access to medical advantages that other Black people do not: “[It] is my responsibility to join with those fighting to change that. ‘Because Black lives are at risk. Serious risk.’”
“Not just from the diabetes, heart problems, obesity, and cancer that we as a group are prone to, but from a wide spectrum of health threats built into the foundation of American society,” he continued. “If we want America to maintain its cultural integrity, we need to fix its structural flaws — and we need to do so on a daily basis.”
While Abdul-Jabbar took note of the numerous police killings of unarmed Blacks that dominated issues of social justice in 2020, he argued that “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 pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence, noting that “the death rate for Blacks is 3.6 times higher than for whites,” while the standard of care they receive is less than acceptable.
Abdul-Jabbar stated that one reason Black people are more susceptible to the virus is because of underlying health conditions. However, he proposed that the poverty caused by systematic racism was also the source of many of these conditions. Those in poverty have less access to quality education, which puts them out of running for higher paying jobs.
He suggested that “one of the reasns Blacks are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates is because they work at what the government has defined as essential jobs more than any other ethnic group: 37.7% Black versus 26.9% white.”
“So, they’re both essential, yet disposable, like protective gloves. The mistake is to think we can fix any one aspect of racism without fixing the others,” he said, adding that it requires “daily maintenance.
The basketball legend said that his concerns concerning the healthcare system led him to become the UCLA health ambassador.
“I wanted 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.”
Adbul-Jabbar lamented the fact that his essay could have been written “50 years ago,” warning that in order for there to be progress, Black people must finally be granted the equality that they have long fought for.
“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. Black lives have to matter in every aspect of American society if they are to thrive.”