Last Thursday, responding to a question by ESPN’s Cari Champion in a video released by LeBron James’ Uninterrupted network on Feb. 15, James and Kevin Durant shared their thoughts on the President and the role athletes have in addressing political issues.
“The number one job in America [belongs to] someone who doesn’t understand the people, and really don’t give a fuck about the people,” James said. “With the President of the United States, it’s at a bad time. And while we can’t change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, that this is not the way.”
“It’s all about leadership,” added Durant. And right now, “The country is not run by a great coach” (UNINTERRUPTED, “Kevin Durant x LeBron James x Cari Champion,” 02.15.2018).
Fox News’ Laura Ingraham decided that she must respond to the NBA stars’ critiques.
“Must they run their mouths like that? Unfortunately, a lot of kids and some adults take these ignorant comments seriously,” she lamented to her over 3 million viewers. “Look, there might be a cautionary lesson in LeBron for kids. This is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA. And it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid a hundred million dollars a year to bounce a ball. Oh and LeBron and Kevin? You’re great players but no one voted for you. Millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, ‘shut up and dribble’ ” (NPR, “Laura Ingraham Told LeBron James To Shut Up And Dribble,” 02.19.2018).
Where to begin? Perhaps by stating that LeBron did in fact graduate high school? Or by pointing out that Trump ran his entire campaign on the idea that he was rich and not involved with politics? Or by questioning the logic of a political commentator telling someone to keep political commentary to themselves?
There are many angles from which to critique Ingraham’s statement, but I like the approach that Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long took. Long, who, as a white athlete, has been uniquely outspoken in his support of Colin Kaepernick and other players’ protests, took to his Twitter account, posting screengrabs of guests Fox News has invited on the show to give political commentary: Chuck Norris talking about climate change, Ted Nugent on Trump’s business councils, Kid Rock weighing in on President Obama and Bobby Knight with the chyron, “I think Trump will show people how intelligent he is” (Twitter, @JOEL9ONE, 02.16.2018).
Look at this list. Google them if you have to. Why would any one of these men be a better figure for kids to listen to than LeBron? LeBron, that guy who has worked his way from financial hardship to hundred million dollar basketball contracts, built his own business empire, maintained a squeaky-clean image and donated tens of millions to charitable causes. It is almost as if — dare I say it — LeBron is not being judged by the content of his character.
The legacy of Black athletes protesting injustice and speaking out on political matters is a long one. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Muhammad Ali and recently Colin Kaepernick are the first examples that come to mind. And equally long is the legacy of racist and crusty calls for them to shut up. Ingraham predictably fits right into this history: she condescends and dehumanizes him, questioning his intelligence and his work ethic, outlining exactly what she sees as his appropriate societal place.
President Trump has similarly bristled at instances of outspoken Black activism in the sports world. Throughout the past NFL season he railed against players protesting racial injustice. He had time to blast Stephen Curry when the Warriors point guard said he would not visit the White House. Trump and his press team also went all out in calling for ESPN’s Jemele Hill to be fired after her assertion that the president is a racist.
What is the common denominator?
The players seem to have it figured out. “To me,” admitted Durant in an interview with USA Today, ”it was racist” (USA Today, “Kevin Durant on Laura Ingraham’s commentary,” 02.16.2018).
“They use to try and hide it,” tweeted the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, a close friend of LeBron’s. “Now the president has given everyone the courage to live their truths” (Twitter, @DwyaneWade, 02.16.2018).
NBA players have a tremendous platform. Cameras and microphones are constantly pushed in their faces, they reach hundreds of millions on social media, they sell shoes, car insurance and everything in between. Players are role models. (We are quick to remind them of it every time they step out of line.) Don’t we want our role models exemplifying bravery, honesty, humanity, leadership and a sense of justice?
Kudos to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who stood behind LeBron and KD. “Let me begin by saying I’m incredibly proud of our players for using the platform they have as players in the NBA and on social media to speak out on issues that are important to them,“ Silver said in his State of the League address (Lexington Herald Leader, “NBA commissioner implies that changes to ‘one-and-done’ rule could be a ways off,” 02.18.2018).
But I’ll give the last word to LeBron.
“I am more than an athlete,” read the neon lights in an image the King posted on Instagram. The caption spoke directly to Ingraham: “#wewillnotshutupanddribble” (Instagram, @kingjames, 02.17.2018).