LeBron James is accustomed to being NBA MVP, having held the title four times, but he needs to be valuable in a much bigger fight — the one against police brutality in the Black community.
The Cleveland Cavaliers forward has received a lot of heat recently from Black activists for his comments, or lack thereof regarding the shooting and killing of a 12-year-old from Cleveland, Tamir Rice.
Last week James broke his silence but, unfortunately, wasn’t saying much.
“For me I’ve always been a guy who’s took [sic] pride in knowledge of every situation that I’ve ever spoke on. And to be honest, I haven’t really been on top of this issue. So it’s hard for me to comment. I understand that any lives that [are] lost, what we want more than anything is prayer and the best for the family, for anyone. But for me to comment on the situation, I don’t have enough knowledge about it,” ESPN reported.
In 2014, Rice was fatally shot by two white Cleveland police officers, who responded to a 911 call that the young boy was wielding a gun at people in a public park. The weapon Rice had was actually a BB gun. Last week an Ohio grand jury decided not to indict the two officers involved, sparking a cultural, political and social debate across all spectrums. Yet another young Black male, swiftly killed by overzealous white police officers.
What more ‘knowledge’ do you need Bron?
James has always proven to be a calculated individual, methodical in his approach no matter what the topic at hand is. I’m not sure if we should be more offended that he hasn’t really been on top of this issue, given that it took place in Cleveland, or that he’s still taking time to digest the facts of the Rice story. We know what the facts are. We know what the issues are. It’s time for solutions. James offering a statement different than one that sounds like it was carefully crafted by a PR person isn’t the only solution, but it certainly is a start.
Cleveland has given James a lot and in return they expect more of him. James’ comments raised an interesting question within the Black community: Are athletes such as James obligated to speak out more on social issues?
Absolutely. Given his mass persona and immense influence it would send the wrong message if James didn’t send the right message.
When James speaks, people listen. He, more than other athletes, has an enormous platform to disseminate an emphatic message that would otherwise fall on deaf ears if it came from a different source. I believe James is obligated to comment further or take a more proactive stance on this particular situation for several reasons. No one is asking James to spearhead the movement, we’re just asking him to be a part of it.
Some activists have come out publicly and asked James to miss basketball games until the Department of Justice imprisons the murderers of Rice. Could you imagine one of the NBA’s most prized commodities taking a stand by boycotting games? The type of financial impact that would have is obvious, but the cultural impact that message sends can’t be measured. The jury’s decision, coupled with James stature as a person and player, prompted social media to birth the #NoJusticeNoLeBron hashtag.
Samaria Rice took issue with the King’s tepid response to the killing of her son.
“I think it’s quite sad that LeBron hasn’t spoken out about my son. I’m not asking him to sit out a game. I know his kids got to eat too, but you could at least put a shirt on or something. … I’m not asking nobody to quit their job or anything but, make a statement for us Black people out here.”
I agree with Rice’s mother. James has to deliver a more definitive statement. In her defense she’s not asking him sit out games, which many others have campaigned for him to do, and neither am I. She just wants to feel like through James’s actions, he’s giving a voice to the voiceless. So do I.
For instance, had James responded to Rice’s murder the same way he responded to Kanye West’s diss of him, then perhaps Rice’s mother and others wouldn’t feel as jilted.
James chose to remain mum on Rice’s murder, but he didn’t hold back when responding to questions about West’s song that mentions his name this week. What’s that about?
As a superstar that young kids look up to, in a city that worships you, in a community that looks to you for leadership, you can’t pick and choose when to take a stand, especially when in the past week you’ve chosen to take a stand over something as minuscule as a rap lyric.
In West’s new song “Facts” he says, “Nike. Nike, treat employees just like slaves . Gave LeBron a billi’ not to run away.”
While James said he hasn’t listened to the song, he is aware of West’s jab at Nike and him.
“We don’t look upon nobody on our side, we just try to put the best athletes that we can out on the floor every night. Obviously I’m going to side with Nike no matter who it is,” James said in a story published on Cleveland.com on Monday . “It’s just, it’s family when you talk about Nike, and I’m always on their side no matter what the situation is.”
Those are some strong words from the two-time NBA champion and they’re aimed at one of the largest, most controversial artist of this generation. Such fervor. Such conviction. If James can make time to comment adamantly on anyone who comes for him and Nike, then he can make time to comment on the two white officers who killed Rice. Nike might be James’s family in a business sense, but members of the Black community are his family in a much deeper sense.
There has always been a gray area when it comes to huge public figures and measuring their level of obligation with respect to addressing social issues. Now in James’ defense, in the past he has shown that he has a pulse of what’s going on and is cognizant of what is taking place socially within the Black community. He has never been hesitant to attach his name to fighting for the cause — that is until now.
In 2014, New Yorker Eric Garner was heard saying “I Can’t Breathe” while being choked to death by an officer.
James, along with other teammates and NBA players chose to wear “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts as a way of shedding light on the incident. Such a simple gesture with such a profound impact.
At the time of Trayvon Martin’s death, the Florida teen was wearing a hoodie, igniting a preposterous argument over whether the hoodie Martin had been wearing caused him to be killed. This egregious assertion was in large part due to the stigma associated with hoodies and young Black men in America.
James, along with then Miami Heat teammate Dwayne Wade and several members of the Heat organization posed together for a photo in hooded sweatshirts. Again, such a simple gesture with a profound impact. That’s a pretty powerful statement from a group of individuals with that type of spotlight. James also wrote “RIP Trayvon” on the side of his sneakers. James publicly showed a genuine level of concern and wasted no time in responding to both incidents.
The Garner killing and Martin shooting garnered national attention and headlines. They obviously were severe enough to draw quick, decisive action from James.
In Rice’s case, he was killed in Cleveland – a place James is all too familiar with. After all, James has spent a majority of his NBA career playing in Cleveland and as a result, has an affinity for that region. One would think the emotional connection James has with the fans, with the city, with that region would be enough impetus for him to want to be front and center highlighting yet another unfortunate tragedy.
For most of us, including Rice’s mother, this is where the confusion comes in.
What makes one situation different from another?
Marcus Lamar is a New York-based sports journalist. Read more from his blog at letsaddressthis.blogspot.com Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.