BY ARIANA DUFORD
Controversial Fox News host Laura Ingraham demanded that athletes, specifically Lebron James, stay out of politics and just "shut up and dribble."
To the disappointment of many, it looks like James has decided to take her advice.
The NBA and its star player found themselves in the middle of an international dispute after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey took to Twitter to express his support for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. For four months, the former British colony has experienced social upheaval and violence as dissidents clash with government forces.
Human rights organizations have accused China of denying free speech, media censorship and illegally detaining and torturing Muslims. Under any other circumstances, James, a self-proclaimed advocate for social justice, would unequivocally oppose such gross lapses in social welfare. But when it comes to China, the 15-time All-Star has opted to stay on the bench.
James declared that he was "more than an athlete," in response to Ingraham's thinly veiled racist comments. But based on his stance on China, I no longer believe him. When asked about Morey's tweet, which resulted in a loss of Chinese sponsorships for the NBA and the canceling of multiple NBA Cares events, James rebuked Morey's decision to speak out almost as forcefully as he rebuked Ingraham when she said he should not speak out.
"I believe he wasn't educated on the situation at hand," James said. The Laker forward had just returned from Shanghai after playing an exhibition game; however, because of Morey's tweet, China refused to broadcast it.
James said his primary concern while abroad was that China would cancel the Shanghai game just as the government had canceled other events in the wake of Morey's tweet: "We flew all these miles to come over to China â€” we would love to play the game of basketball in front of the fans."
So, James wanted to be a plain ol' athlete. Instead of taking a stand like he always does, he'd much rather shoot a few lay-ups. Showing off his jump shot was more important than jumping in and speaking out about grave injustices. I thought James of all people understood that the value of an athlete lies beyond his ability to bounce a ball or entertain spectators. But alas, I was wrong.
To no one's surprise, James' comments were met with fierce backlash; Hong Kong protesters burned his jersey in the streets. But even his cleanup reeked of the same self-absorbed privilege and arrogance he criticized Ingraham and her followers of not too long ago. James said in a tweet that his remarks were not about the "substance" of the Hong Kong protests and that "others can talk about that." Others can talk about that. But James why can't you, the leader of the new wave of athlete activism, talk about it?
Naturally, many have speculated that the reason James has chosen to â€” excuse the punâ€” pivot from his usually held position is because of his financial interests. James has a $1 billion lifetime contract with Nike, a company with close ties to China. Additionally, James' Space Jam reboot is expected to rake in hundreds of millions in the Chinese market. And I haven't even touched upon the NBA's growing interest in the region.
Now the question on everyone's mind is if the great King James has traded in his morals for a paycheck.
James insisted that he had not spoken up on China because he is "uninformed," and he only speaks on topics that he is knowledgeable aboutâ€” a fair point. But the most influential athlete in the world cannot and should not hide behind the curtain of stupidity. To be uniformed in 2019 is to be willfully ignorant. Unlike the people of China, James has unrestricted access to the largest search engine in the worldâ€” Google. Instead of educating himself, he decided to be a team player and support the NBA's controversial relationship with a leading human rights violator.
It gets worse. James continued to put his foot in his mouth or send out tweets that perhaps should have stayed in his drafts.
"I also don't think every issue should be everybody's problem as well," James told the Los Angeles Times.
This line may be the most disgraceful of them all. Our moral obligations extend beyond the imaginary borders of our own country. To ask people to only care about things that directly impact them is not only inhumane but sets a dangerous precedent.
Where is the James who led his team in wearing hoodies to recognize the murder of unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, whose black skin and hoodie made him a target? Where is the James who passionately spoke out against the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville? Where is the James who built an entire school so that underprivileged children in his hometown could receive a better future? My guess? He's somewhere in his Chinese-manufactured Nike Lebron 11s dribbling down the court.
LeBron James tweeted out this photo of the Miami Heat all wearing hooded sweatshirts in support of Trayvon Martin. pic.twitter.com/WQilPi3y— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 23, 2012
Incidentally, I have noticed the double standards within this debate. Many of the people scolding James for not rebuking the Chinese government, were among the same groups of people instructing him to stay in his lane a few years ago when he publicly discussed police brutality. Those people are hypocrites. Simple. But if James continues to look away while China oppresses its citizens, then that makes him one too.
Though this NBA-China fiasco is far from over, one thing remains clear: James broke his promise when he said he would "definitely not shut up and dribble."