Why LeBron James Will Never Live Up to Muhammed Ali
Where are the black superheroes? Because, we need them.
With the Super Bowl behind us, we can now look forward to another five months of sports that are dominated by African-Americans. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony, just to name a few. I chose to highlight basketball players because they are literally the most visible athletes of our time. I’m too young to remember this personally, but I know that this was not always the case. Before LeBron and Michael (Jordan, of course), there were prominent, black, athletic superstars Muhammed Ali and Jim Brown. But beyond just playing different sports, Ali and Brown were drastically different from Jordan and James for one particularly disheartening reason – Ali and Brown stood for something bigger than themselves.
Although Ali and Brown were superstars during the Civil Rights Movement, modern athletes are still playing within the framework of a social playing field that is uneven for minorities. We are not in a post-racial world.
After Trayvon Martin was killed for being a black kid in a hoodie, the Miami Heat – to their credit – donned hoodies themselves; showing the world that they stood in solidarity with demonstrations going on around the country. This though, is not enough. Racially motivated injustices go on every day. I’m not asking for any one of these athletes to turn into Malcolm X; however I am asking that they take it upon themselves to be more than just a commodity.
LeBron James plays in Florida, a state where an estimated 200,000 people were unable to vote because of some kind of voter intimidation. James could have said something. He should have said something. Dwayne Wade, LeBron James' superstar teammate on the Miami Heat, is from Chicago, where more people have been killed in the past year than Afghanistan. Again, Dwayne Wade could have used his platform as a basketball superstar to at least address the situation.
It all started in my opinion with the greatest commodity of them all — Michael Jordan. I cannot think of a more detrimental, paradigm shifting, course-altering quote than Jordan saying, “Republicans buy sneakers too” when he was allegedly asked why he wouldn’t endorse a black democratic candidate. Right then, like so many other things Jordan has done in his career, the standard was set. Athletes would stop raising black fists, boycotting a military draft, and imposing their will both on and off the basketball court.
What bothers me most, is for all the work they do behind the scenes, like the $2 million dollars generated from The Decision — James’ televised choice to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat — nothing would have a more direct impact on black communities than if he publicly addressed the issues that they face. LeBron James, by way of his post-game press conferences, has the opportunity to do this every single day — and doesn’t.
By speaking up for inner-city children everywhere, James, and any other basketball superstar for that matter, can cast a light on the deteriorating schools and families that black youth are disproportionally affected by. For instance, if these superstars used one of their press conferences to say something to the effect of “be a good father” I would argue that this has far greater potential to create substantial change within black communities than does $2 million dollars. If a simple public endorsement of responsible fatherhood could cause just one kid to grow up and actually be a good father, it could result in one less kid in the Boys and Girls Club — and by extension, one less kid that has to go outside of the home to find a role model.
Black athletes, like all athletes, are accustomed to the super-human nature of their bodies. They are faster, stronger, and quicker than all of us. All those characteristics make them very entertaining to watch, but it is what those same traits afford them in a personal context that is much more important. As an elite athlete, you are always on the world stage. By using that world stage, just once, to talk more about your people, and less about your team, everybody wins.