More Than an Athlete? [with comment by Paul]

Lebron James is perhaps the most privileged person on the face of the Earth. Graced with once-in-a-generation athletic talent, he also happens to be 6 feet, 8 inches tall. And, best of all, he was born in the United States of America. Our free enterprise system has allowed James to parlay his talent, and lots of hard work, into an $85 million a year income.

Not bad! But not enough for King James. He is currently starring in an ESPN series that sums up his ambitions: it is titled “More Than an Athlete.” James aspires not only to win basketball games and to get richer, but to influence our culture and our politics.

Toward that end, he has a show on HBO called “The Shop.” He invites celebrities onto his set–a faux African-American barbershop–for candid conversations. The New Yorker likes it, which is a bad sign.

It was on “The Shop” that James delivered a riff that has landed him on the Drudge Report:

In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality. And it’s like, “This is my team. You do what the fuck I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.
The difference between the NBA and the NFL: the NBA [cares about] what we believe [a player] can be, the potential. In the NFL, it’s what can you do for me this Sunday or this Monday or this Thursday. And if you ain’t it, we moving on.

The Washington Post enthusiastically endorsed James’s contrast between the NFL and the NBA:

For LeBron James, the fundamental difference between the NBA and the NFL is the level of respect shown to players by the respective leagues and their team owners.
“I’m so appreciative in our league of our commissioner [Adam Silver],” James continued. “He doesn’t mind us having … a real feeling and to be able to express that. It doesn’t even matter if Adam agrees with what we are saying, he at least wants to hear us out. As long as we are doing it in a very educational, non-violent way, then he’s absolutely okay with it.”

The NBA and the NFL have had strikingly different approaches to player activism. In the NBA, James and others have worn T-shirts during warm-ups in recognition of victims of police violence with no repercussions from the league.

By contrast, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick set off years of controversy and debate when he knelt during the national anthem as a means to protest racial injustice.

Yeah, well, it may be news to the Washington Post, but I am sure Lebron James knows that the NBA has long had a rule prohibiting the kind of ignorant “protest” for which Kaepernick became famous:

Players, coaches, and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.

Lebron James has no apparent qualifications as a political pundit and instructor of the rest of us, unless we are also 6′ 8″ and freakishly talented, and want to improve our basketball moves. But that, unfortunately, hasn’t stopped him. He waded into the waters of anti-Semitism with this social media post, which I think was on Snapchat. Either that, or he has deleted it from his Instagram account:

What James meant by that, God only knows. It apparently refers to the NBA. But it doesn’t take a genius, or even one who is “more than an athlete,” to understand that references to “Jewish money” are ignorant and inflammatory. Still, in the left-wing waters in which James swims–he is a friend and protege of Warren Buffett–casual anti-Semitism is common and doesn’t require any particular justification.

On Twitter, James’s liberal fans are outraged that anyone is offended by his “Jewish money” reference. He is merely quoting rap lyrics, they say. Great! But there are lots of anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist lyrics in rap, and many other lyrics that do not share such bigotry. Lebron James, like everyone else, chooses what words he wants to quote.

The bottom line is that our country has created an elite class of wealthy, entitled athletes unlike anything the world has seen before. When Babe Ruth negotiated for an $80,000 per year salary, it was considered noteworthy that Ruth’s income was more than that of the President of the United States. Perhaps apocryphally, Ruth said that he had a better year than the president.

Those days are long gone. Captains of industry–let alone politicians–rarely can match Lebron James’s $85 million yearly take. Yet James persists in talking about slavery and exploitation. Any sane person can only laugh at such presumption. But a more serious question might be: Lebron, have you considered why it is that you are among the world’s most privileged people? And might you consider how that privilege may actually be a good thing, as we continue to extend the benefits of free enterprise to Americans who are far less privileged than you are?

If Lebron engages such questions seriously, I might be convinced that he is really more than an athlete. But so far, he has taken the easy, ignorant, left-wing route.

PAUL ADDS: Lebron James probably knows less than almost every American. Most Americans, and almost every male American, has either attended college or had to make a living outside of the bubble that engulfs elite athletes from an early age. James has done neither.

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