Basketball Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said on Friday blackface comments made by NBC host Megyn Kelly this week were "hate crime-adjacent."
Abdul-Jabbar, who won six NBA championships during a 20-year career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, wrote a column for the Hollywood Reporter stating Kelly should be fired for the remarks:
"In Megyn Kelly's case, it would be difficult to sustain an argument that she was ignorant of the blackface controversy. We've had many examples of it in the past few years (Ted Danson, Luann de Lesseps, Kylie Jenner, Julianne Hough, etc.) with all the usual pundits, myself included, explaining publicly why this is a hurtful and insensitive display. She's an educated person with a news background, so there's no way she is not informed on the issue. Which means she deliberately, without regard to the harm she would inflict on people of color, chose to pull out this old controversy. Not quite a hate crime, but hate crime-adjacent."
Tom Kludt of CNN Business reported Kelly issued an apology to NBC colleagues Tuesday following a Today show segment where she asked why blackface was considered racist, noting "Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character."
"One of the wonderful things about my job is that I get the chance to express and hear a lot of opinions," Kelly said in the internal note. "Today is one of those days where listening carefully to other points of view, including from friends and colleagues, is leading me to rethink my own views."
NBC announced Friday that Kelly won't return to Today, but was still in discussions with the network about her future with the company, per Claire Atkinson of NBC News.
Abdul-Jabbar argued NBC's news division is "complicit" for the controversial comments, which he also described as "racist-adjacent," because Kelly was hired after time at Fox News, where he said she made "consistently racist statements."
"Should she be fired? In the best of all possible worlds, yes," he wrote. "Either she deliberately was racist in order to juice her flagging ratings, or she was too dumb to know it was racist, which is inexcusable for a newsperson. Either reason is grounds for dismissal."
Along with his standout basketball career, Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 for his work as an advocate for social justice.