Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Reveals Battle With Prostate Cancer and Racial Inequality in Health Care

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is getting candid about his health struggle, and the struggle faced by Black Americans due to racial inequality in the nation's health care system. The iconic NBA superstar penned a powerful editorial in which he revealed his own battle with prostate cancer, and what he learned from his experience.

In his op-ed for WebMD, titled "Black Lives Matter," Abdul-Jabbar revealed that, over the course of his life, he's had "prostate cancer, leukemia, and heart bypass surgery," and explained that given his age -- 73 -- and his towering 7-foot-2-inch height, he's already more at risk than most.

However, Abdul-Jabbar explains that another major factor when it comes to his health is the fact that he is Black.

"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 as solidly as steel girders holding up a bridge," Abdul-Jabbar writes. "Most people know this is true, though some will deny it because they fear removing those rusty girders will cause the whole bridge to collapse. The truth is that those girders are already malignant with rust and will eventually collapse if we don’t address the underlying rot of systemic racism."

The basketball icon admitted that, when it came to his own health concerns, he's "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."

However, the vast majority are not as lucky and privileged as he.

Abdul-Jabbar addressed the Black Lives Matter protests that swept across the country during the summer in the wake of shocking instances of police brutality. He went on to explain that the call for human equality wasn't just in regards to law enforcement and courts, but in every facet of American society.

"The backlash in which white people proclaimed All Lives Matter clearly had no understanding of the issue. Blacks weren’t saying that Black lives mattered more, they were emphasizing that, the way the system works now, Black Lives Matter … Less," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. 

While police brutality has been the focus of the protests, and has been a very visible point of contention to stir the protests needed for change, the hidden inequities in medicine are as dangerous and need to be changed in order to save lives on a daily basis.

"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.

When it comes to how the nation can address this system concern, Abdul-Jabbar recalled his analogy to the bridge at risk of collapse, and explained the importance for "daily maintenance" of its structural integrity.

"More Black teachers, jurors, and doctors -- that’s our daily maintenance. 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," he wrote. "And not just for the next few months until the public relations spotlight has dimmed, but until the country proves through legislation and public behavior that it actually believes in liberty and justice for all."

Abdul-Jabbar concluded, "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."

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