LeBron James and Why Activism Has a Place in Sports


Image courtesy of All-Pro Reels

Max Dolinh, Staff Writer

The past few months in the world of sports have been unprecedented, to say the least. From a global pandemic halting all competition to leagues being resumed with no fans at all, it’s been a year of sports that ESPN would make a 30 for 30 about. But another aspect of this remarkable year in athletics has been the emergence of players using their platform to raise awareness for social justice issues. Sure, we’ve seen players like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the anthem in previous years, but following the death of George Floyd, protests within sports skyrocketed. Kneeling has now become part of the norm, players in the NBA and Premier League have placed social justice messages on the back of their jerseys, and whole teams have even boycotted their games to call issues to attention. But unsurprisingly, these mass protests have been met with backlash. 

One of the overarching criticisms of these athletes who use their status to spread awareness about social issues is that they are hypocrites. And no one else has been criticized more for his behavior than LeBron James. According to the critics, a player like LeBron who gets paid millions per year to play basketball can’t talk about being disadvantaged because of race when he doesn’t experience it at all. What many people fail to realize is that LeBron, and all of his fellow black athletes who are able to live a comfortable lifestyle, worked hard to get into that position. Just because they are massively successful despite their race, doesn’t mean that other African Americans aren’t disadvantaged because of it as well. A point which many specifically criticize  LeBron for is that he frequently posts on social media about systemic racism and oppression in America, yet he stays silent on the situation in Hong Kong and Nike’s use of labor in China. While these issues undoubtedly need to be talked about, it’s unfair that only LeBron is being criticized for not speaking up. There are plenty of other Nike athletes in the sports world who aren’t talking about China, so why is LeBron the only one being held accountable? Additionally, just because LeBron and other athletes’ inherent actions and lifestyles may not reflect the issues which they preach, doesn’t mean they can’t use their huge platform to speak up about them. 

Take Lewis Hamilton for example. As the most famous and undisputed top driver in Formula 1, he is the closest thing to LeBron in his sport. And like LeBron, he is constantly speaking up about global issues, and is frequently labeled a hypocrite because of it. Lewis is one of the biggest promoters of veganism and preserving the environment from around the whole sports world, yet he races cars with combustion engines while traveling all over the globe. He encourages his audience to reduce their carbon own footprint when his carbon footprint is much higher than the average person. But when you think about it in the grand scheme of things, by using his platform on Instagram (20M followers), Twitter (5.9M followers), etc. to influence his supporters to make environmentally friendly choices, he is more than making up for the excess carbon emissions caused by his lifestyle. And if he were to quit the sport altogether to reduce his carbon footprint, his team would just replace him with another driver who would produce the same emissions as before but without the activism. 

The same goes for LeBron. If there was a different athlete in his shoes who only posted about sports and not about national or global issues, no one would bat an eye. And even though his actions are the same as many others within his sport, only he is held to these high standards. No athlete should be expected to be the perfect activist, and instead of criticizing them for speaking on issues unrelated to sports or discussing problems that they don’t feel the effects of, we should just appreciate that they are using their massive platform for a good cause in the first place. It’s understandable if you disagree with what an athlete has to say, but invalidating their entire opinion because of their status is absurd. And when it’s as simple as promoting environmentally friendly behavior or standing up for human rights, there’s no reason for anyone to have a problem.