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Volume 25 No. 26

Sports in Society

James has been outspoken in his willingness to tackle racial inequality and police brutality
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

Cavaliers F LeBron James said he would "not shut up and dribble" following comments from Fox News' Laura Ingraham last week that were critical of James and Warriors F Kevin Durant, according to Joe Vardon of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. In response, James said, "We will definitely not shut up and dribble. ... I will definitely not do that" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/18). Durant said of Ingraham's commentary, "To me, it was racist." He added, "Ignorance is something I try to ignore" (USATODAY.com, 2/16). Ingraham said in response to the criticism, "If pro athletes and entertainers want to freelance as political pundits, then they should not be surprised when they’re called out for insulting politicians. There was no racial intent in my remarks -- false, defamatory charges of racism are a transparent attempt to immunize entertainment and sports elites from scrutiny and criticism" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/18). USA TODAY's Scott Gleeson noted Ingraham also "invited" James to appear on her show, "The Ingraham Angle" (USATODAY.com, 2/17). She doubled down on her comments against James on Friday night's episode of her show, saying, "If you want to be a political pundit, you're coming on my court." She added, "If you're a white NBA player and you said that stuff about Obama, you would never play again" (NYTIMES.com, 2/16). James said, "I’m going to play a role in anything I can to inspire the youth to know that their voices mean something, that what they dream about can become a reality. ... It’s not about me just dribbling a basketball. It’s about how many people I can inspire, how many communities I can inspire and change for the greater good." James: "As a role model, as a leader ... I will continue to lend my voice, and continue to lend my efforts to help the greater cause” (“Morning Roast,” ESPN Radio, 2/17).

SHINING A LIGHT ON THE ISSUESJames also said that he "wished Ingraham had fact checked her speech before going on air" after she incorrectly said James left high school a year early (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/18). But he said Ingraham's comments were the "best thing to help me create more awareness." James: "So I appreciate her for giving me even more awareness." Durant said, "I feel like everybody in this room has a voice, and it's getting louder and louder every day. So we've got to speak what we believe in" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/18). Heat G Dwyane Wade: "I love the fact that if someone can say something to you, you can say something back, right? ... Steph Curry can come out and say what he wants to say whether it’s using the media ... or whether it’s using your thumbs to type it” (“NBA Tip-Off,” TNT, 2/18). In Miami, Manny Navarro noted other participants and coaches at All-Star weekend "defended James' position and his decision not to 'just shut up and dribble'" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/18). Warriors G Stephen Curry said of Ingraham's take, "It was surprising because of how blunt it was, and how aggressive, and just out line it was. ... That's the tone that people try to put athletes and black athletes in a box. To say basketball is the only thing that you can provide in this world. I mean, obviously, very upsetting" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 2/17). TNT's Ernie Johnson said, "I was so stunned by the personal nature and kind of the closed-minded and condescending response that Laura Ingraham had" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/17).

REFUSING TO STICK TO SPORTS: USA TODAY's Sam Amick wrote people across L.A. were "benefitting from NBA athletes who refused to 'stick to sports' and took part in nine charity events during All-Star weekend." Amick: "Funny how that tired trope doesn't come up when players are investing their time and money to give back to society" (USATODAY.com, 2/16). ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz writes James in L.A. was a "political flashpoint, one that rippled through the larger culture this weekend far beyond the league's realm." James this weekend "solidified his presence both in the game and outside of it at a moment when both he and basketball were in the public's consciousness" (ESPN.com, 2/19). THE ATHLETIC's Lisa Olson wrote if Ingraham "truly wants to prove she picked on James and Durant merely because they dared to express their thoughts and no other reason, she ought to join him on one of LeBron's many charitable journeys." He is one of the country's "most generous philanthropists; it won't be hard to find the trail of good deeds he leaves behind when he's not dribbling" (THEATHLETIC.com, 2/18). TNT’s Johnson: “Look at LeBron James’ body of work. Look at D-Wade's body of work. Look at a lot of the players in the NBA’s body of work when it comes to social issues, when it comes to helping communities” (“NBA Tip-Off,” TNT, 2/17). ABC’s T.J. Holmes noted there is a “long-standing tradition” of athletes being involved in social issues (“GMA,” ABC, 2/19). 

STRONG WORDS: THE UNDEFEATED's Jerry Bembry wrote James is the "most powerful voice in his profession as the willingness to tackle racial inequality, police shootings" and even President Trump has "emboldened other NBA players." James "realizes that his social media reach adds to his ability to say what he wants without affecting his brand." James said, "I don't think the companies are afraid anymore." James "believes his business relationships are so strong that he's more empowered to speak on issues." That ability to "balance business and social activism -- without fear or repercussions -- resonates with players in the league." The "woke athletes of the NBA have not diminished interest in the league," and they "will not be silenced" (THEUNDEFEATED.com, 2/18). In Cleveland, Bill Livingston wrote, "If this is the mark of an ignorant, barely intelligible man, I say where do we find more like him?" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 2/18). USA TODAY's Michael Singer wrote as James has "matured, his words and opinions have garnered more weight, and he's hardly avoided addressing these issues" (USATODAY.com, 2/17). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Devine wrote any political opinions James voices will "automatically receive widespread attention and scrutiny." He "continues to put himself front-and-center, though, because he says he feels that's his responsibility" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/17). In Akron, Clint O'Connor wrote Ingraham's questioning of James' "right to speak out is bizarre." James has delivered "thoughtful remarks in recent years about racism and social injustice." He "does not go off half-cocked" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 2/17). CBS’ Vladimir Duthiers said James “never shies away from making political statements” (“CBS This Morning,” 2/19).

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? In DC, Sally Jenkins writes a "real conversation" between James and Ingraham as "two smart, opposite-spectrum people might be useful." It would be a "fascinating reversal if, instead of baiting and trading taunts, James went on her show and elevated the conversation." James should "beat her at her own game." It would be an "easy win, and a worthwhile one" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/19). SI.com's Rohan Nadkarni wrote on the "issue of gun control specifically, there could be room for an NBA-led coalition to help somehow, someway impact legislation." It is possible that James, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Warriors coach Steve Kerr or Raptors coach Dwane Casey can "help to put even more direct pressure on politicians to address gun control" (SI.com, 2/17). ESPN's Matt Barrie said of the NBA, "There hasn't been a league more impressive and dominant in the news cycle" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/18).