LeBron James has never been shy about expressing himself when it comes to racial injustice or societal issues.
In 2012, James led his Miami Heat teammates to wear black hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin. In 2014, James showed support for the family of Eric Garner when he wore an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt during warm ups. Right or wrong; and it isn’t this columnist job to say which, James has often put himself out there and held to his convictions as a role model to not only the African-American community, but to the general population of youth in our nation and abroad
All of that is why the criticism being levied at James this past week in Cleveland for remaining silent in regards to the exoneration of the officers who shot and killed Tamir Rice , is unjust and unfair.
It is indeed a tragedy that a young man lost his life in a Cleveland playground while holding an Airsoft rifle, getting shot by members of Cleveland’s honest who had responded to the call. If there were to be a national incident that people would expect LeBron James to comment one, most figured it would be the one in his own backyard.
The fact LeBron chose not to comment because he felt he was inadequately informed and educated on the case has thus rubbed many people the wrong way. Many African- American activists are taking jabs at the superstar, proclaiming their disappointment and demanding that LeBron sit out games in a show of solidarity and support for Tamir Rice.
Pardon my candor, but to hell with that.
The thought process is that a rich guy, substantially so and moreso a famous Ohio native would be able to elicit change through his actions because of his platform before the eyes of the world. The reality however, is that LeBron James and whatever action he would have taken were ultimately not going to change hundreds of years of racial injustice, civil rights issues, and systemic racism. Not he, nor you nor I have the power to win that battle alone.
Nothing he would have done is going to move those officers closer to jail. We don’t live in a society where that happens. If anything, the only thing LeBron sitting would have done is serve as an ego-boost to BLM activists because it would have been empty theatre. No change would have come from it because what is/has always been a criminal case wouldn’t have been changed by public outcry or the actions of a famous celebrity with a platform. Short of providing new evidence, LeBron taking any sort of action would have gone on with initial buzz, but no systemic changes to anything that is in real need of rectifying. In short, it would be nothing but a momentary upkick in publicity.
The proof for that theory is in how much change or remediation LeBron’s actions previously, both in the case of Garner and Trayvon Martin, served any sort of purpose short of merely raising awareness to the situation. Those deriding LeBron for not speaking out this time need only look at the previous time he spoke out to notice that even with a platform, these type of events continue to happen regardless.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying advocacy or awareness is a bad thing. The thing is however, that with the platform that enables that advocacy and awareness comes the knowledge that by doing so and taking a stand, you’re risking your livelihood, your reputation and putting your future in jeopardy, not to mention your family.
Protest is risky. It takes bravery, a stubborn outlook and the courage to stand in and stick to that conviction. Protest can reflect negatively on your employer and those who stand behind you. If LeBron would have chosen to protest, the Cavaliers organization, Nike and the NBA would have had to either stand by James or distance themselves from him entirely. James couldn’t risk that. He had way too much to lose in terms of support, popularity and endorsements if he had spoken out.
Asking him to do so and risk everything wasn’t only unfair, it was selfish. To criticize him for not taking a stand is absurd. If you were in the same spot, would you risk it all? Would you jeopardize your livelihood, family and future earning potential to take a stand? You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t think twice about doing so.
Few celebrities risk fame and money to align themselves with a protest movement in the way that is being asked of James. For him to do so would require something more than empathy and an act of selflessness.
James is a marketing and endorsement phenom, has turned into a global icon, is a fantastic shoe salesman and happens to be the best basketball player of his generation. Asking him to be more than that and risk all he and his team have created for him, isn’t fair nor is the burden on him to make some sort of massive wide sweeping change either.
The onus is at the parental level and looking inward if we are to talk about societal issues and civil rights. We cannot rely on our athletes to police society and give us a sound byte and serve as spokespersons for our causes.
Hell, if we are asking that of our athletes, why aren’t we asking that of ourselves?
Tags: BLM, criticism, Lebron James, protests, Tamir Rice