Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pens op-ed on importance of ‘Jeopardy’ host
The show's "tone-deaf misstep" in casting a host, Abdul-Jabbar wrote, "suggests the problem may not be just a bad branch, but a rotten root."
NBA legend-turned-prolific writer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has penned a thoughtful essay for The Hollywood Reporter in which he notes how the search for a host to replace late icon Alex Trebek as host of Jeopardy! turned into a public relations debacle.
“The way the show’s producers handled the transition from the Golden Age of Trebek is just as insensitive and out-of-touch as [Mike] Richards’ smarmy comments,” Abdul-Jabbar asserts, adding, “their tone-deaf misstep suggests the problem may not be just a bad branch, but a rotten root.”
Abdul-Jabbar notes that as Trebek quickly went from just the host of Jeopardy! to the face of the brand, “he evolved with the show and became the kindly face of the part of America that venerates knowledge.”
“That’s why choosing the right host to replace him is about more than simple entertainment values, it’s about respecting what the show represents to American culture,” the former Los Angeles Laker wrote. “It’s about acknowledging Jeopardy!’s significance as an enriching leader in promoting the joys and benefits of education.”
Abdul-Jabbar deftly declares that the choice to replace Trebek was even more imperative, given “the assault against intelligence and critical thinking the country has faced in recent years.”
He added that the guest-host stints this summer featured a “cross-section of America: women, men, Black, white.” The search to replace Trebek included an appearance by fan-favorite LeVar Burton, the actor and former host of the venerable ’80s television show, Reading Rainbow.
Yet, as Abdul-Jabbar notes, “when it came to choosing the permanent host, they defaulted to a white male with a background as a television producer and game show host.”
“The choice of Mike Richards,” he added, “was business as usual.”
Abdul-Jabbar — who competed on Jeopardy! in its seasons 11 and 15, its Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational tournament in season 26 and Power Players Week in season 28 — wrote that he was happy “that athletes were more than just moving body parts and that we were knowledgeable about much more than sports stats.”
The NBA Hall of Famer wrote he hoped his appearance “elevated the image of athletes and contributed to people taking their voices more seriously when they spoke out about social justice.”
While Abdul-Jabbar praised the selection of The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, whom he characterized as “delightful” as a potential Jeopardy! hostess, he wrote that he hoped the show’s producers would choose a host who reflects the diversity of America, noting the importance of showing “not just white males” are the gatekeepers of knowledge.