A former NBA player who knows sports activism says he's lost respect for Dennis Rodman

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter and this is The World.
One of the big stories we've covered this week is Dennis Rodman's controversial and bizarre foray into diplomacy. The former NBA star has been criticized for going into North Korea to essentially embrace a brutal dictator. Rodman is certainly not the first athlete to take a political stance, or even the first NBA player to do so. Several years ago, 6 foot 7 inch NBA power forward, Ira Newble, stepped into a big stakes geopolitical debate, over the Darfur, Sudan conflict. Newble joined other activists, like Mia Farrow, to try and pressure China to take a more constructive role to help end that conflict.
Newble joins us from his home in Detroit. Ira, you went to Chad in 2007 to visit victims of the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. What was that like for you?

Ira Newble: It was a very, very humbling experience. I went there to try to get a pulse and try to understand what was going on; saw that over 400,000 people were murdered, and about two and a half million displaced. And when I started speaking about it, I felt like that I needed to go there and actually see what was going on.

Schachter: Okay, so at the time, you were a professional athlete, big time guy in the NBA. Did you think, "This'll be great for my image?" What was the motivation?

Newble: It started, for me, just reading a newspaper article about a professor, Eric Reeves, that was doing some work over there while he was fighting leukemia. And I was watching the news, and I couldn't understand why I didn't see anything about this on the news. So we communicated, and decided to come up with just simply writing a letter to the president of China, 'cause they were one of the largest economic supporters for that area and the Olympics were coming up. And it was pretty much just gonna get my teammates to sign it. I didn't really think it would blow up into what it did, but because of relationships between NBA and China, Nike and China, business relationships... It kinda blew up into something that I really didn't think it would.

Schachter: Any regrets about what you did? Would you do something differently now?

Newble: No, no I wouldn't. I have no regrets at all. At the end of the day, I did get support from pretty much the majority of the NBA, and what it did is it brought awareness.

Schachter: How do you think your actions compare to what Dennis Rodman has been doing, or should we even compare them/

Newble: Yeah, I don't think it should be a comparison. I noticed that in the interview, they used the word, "basketball diplomacy." And I do want to say that I don't think that's the definition of basketball diplomacy at all. If it is, it's beneficial to Kim Jong-un.

Schachter: Getting back to your own experiences in activism, in sports activism. What is the biggest takeaway you got from your visit to Chad? And have you kept up that cause, or have you moved onto other things?

Newble: I have not kept up with it as much, lately. You know, I've been working, doing some coaching. But, what I did take away from it is... Like I said at the beginning, it really, it humbled me, and made me understand that there's a lot going on in this world that people don't know about. A lot of pain, a lot of suffering, and all they wanted was some hope and anybody, and somebody, to help them. And that's what I did, and I got other players to help. So it may not--it didn't stop it, but it helped a lot of people at the time, and it made progress.

Schachter: That was Ira Newble, former NBA power forward and basketball diplomat.

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