Photo by Jeff Lewis
LeBron James' comments about race stirs the pot in sports.
By Jason Lewis Sentinel Sports Editor
Race relations in sports are much better for black athletes than it was 60+ years ago. Before Jackie Robinson and a few other trailblazers, black athletes could not even take the field in major league American sports.
Over the years, black athletes have endured many racial struggles in the arena of sports. While there have been great strides made in race relations, some racial issues still exist.
Ice Hockey players, who are mostly white, can drop the gloves and fight, which is an acceptable way to settle a conflict in that sport.
Pitchers in baseball can purposely hit a batter, causing bench-clearing brawls, without the risk of severe penalty or being labeled a thug.
But let some NBA players, who are more than likely black, have a brawl, and the penalties are extremely severe and the players are called a bunch of gangsters.
How often is there even a fight in the NBA? It is pretty rare, but when it does happen, the entire black race is under indictment. There are a lot more fights in ice hockey, but they never take the amount of heat that black athletes in the NBA do.
The same goes for football, where there are rarely any major fights. When the University of Miami football team had a brawl with Florida International (mostly black players for both teams) in 2006, judging by the attention that was given to that fight, it seemed like they had guns on the field.
Last year Oregon running back LeGarette Blount, who is black, punched an opposing player after the game, and he was suspended for the rest of the season (he was allowed to rejoin the team later that season after showing good behavior). In ice hockey, the fans are waiting for a player to throw that type of punch. There will be little to no penalty and no racial backlash for those white players.
Blacks athletes are still on the short end of the stick when it comes to race and sports, but some athletes may be playing the race card where it should not be played.
Miami Heat forward LeBron James recently played the race card, in a round about way. CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien asked James a very leading question, and he made the mistake of answering it.
O’Brien asked James if he felt that race played a role in the backlash against him since “The Decision” was aired on ESPN. James should have let that question float on by, but he replied, “I think so, at times. It’s always, you know, a race factor.”
James has dug himself a nice little hole since publicly divorcing Cleveland for the much more attractive city of Miami. He did himself a disservice, and a disservice to anyone who has experienced true racism, by saying that race has played a factor in the negative attention that he has been getting.
James has brought all of this negative media attention on himself. Making his decision on where he will be playing basketball this up and coming season on national television was a horrible idea. The only way that he could have pulled that off and saved face is if he had announced that he was staying in Cleveland.
Nobody outside of Cleveland has a problem with James leaving. It was the smart choice to make. But the issue is the way he left. He had an “everybody look at me” moment as he was crushing the hopes and dreams of a city that supported him for years.
Kobe Bryant has his “everybody look at me” moments. But that is when he is holding up the NBA Finals championship trophy in one hand, and the NBA Finals MVP trophy in the other hand.
James has not come close to doing that, so he has to manufacture moments of attention. That is what rubbed everybody the wrong way. That is what has made him into a villain. It is not a race issue. It is an issue of James making a horrible decision, and now he has to take the heat for it. If he had held a short and simple press conference, or simply sent out a press release stating where he will be playing, none of this backlash would have been happening right now.
Take the race issue out of this equation and people will still hate James for the way he announced his decision. Leave race in the equation, but have James make his announcement in a more tactful way, and none of this negative attention would be lumped on him. That is because race is not the issue here, a very bad decision is.
James putting this into a racial context does a disservice to anybody who experiences real racism. There are racial issues in sports today, and in everyday life. But what James is going through is not a racial issue. That is an issue of a guy who dug himself into a hole and is trying to act like he did nothing wrong. James has yet to admit that the hour long ESPN special was a mistake, and his PR manager, Maverick Carter, tried to save face by saying “The execution could have been a little better.”
How could the show have been executed better? How could James do that show without coming off like a villain? The execution of the show was not the problem. James and Carter executed that show exactly how they wanted to. They should never have done the show in the first place. It seems like they are the only two who did not see the outrage from such a farce.
Black athletes who experience real racism should speak out, but black athletes who take heat for their own poor decisions should not play the race card, and they should not fall into the trap of answering the race question.