LeBron James has a message for Donald Trump: sports should unite, not divide
During a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday — hours after the opening of his I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio — the four-time NBA MVP spoke out against the president.
“You know, we are in a position right now in America where this race thing [has] taken over,” James, 33, said. “I believe our president is kinda trying to divide us. He is — I don’t want to say kinda. He’s dividing us.”
“I can’t sit back and say nothing,” James added.
As an example, James cited the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, a movement San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started back in 2016 to draw attention to the continued oppression of people due to their race in the United States.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Trump has continued to bring the protests up during his rallies and on Twitter. He’s also threatened to take away tax breaks for the NFL, urging team owners to fine or even fire athletes who “disrespect our flag.”
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now?’ ” Trump said in a rally speech in Alabama last summer. “Out, you’re fired.’
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” he added in a series of Sept. 2017 tweets. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
The former Celebrity Apprentice host also uninvited the Philadelphia Eagles and the Golden State Warriors — NFL and NBA champs, respectively — from visiting the White House after select players, including Stephen Curry, said they wouldn’t attend.
James was one of those athletes who said he wouldn’t show up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if his now-former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, won the NBA Championship back in June.
He’s also called Trump a “bum” in the past.
But when speaking to Lemon on Monday, James didn’t resort to name-calling. Instead, he spoke openly about how being involved in athletics helped him understand people from different backgrounds.
“Sports [was] the first time I ever was around someone white,” he said. “I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me. And we became very good friends. It was always about sport.”
Added James: “Sports has never been something that divides people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.”
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Following the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, James said he’s been motivated to use his celebrity for a greater good.
“Having kids of my own, having boys of my own, it hit home for me to see and to learn a story and to think if my boy left home and he never returned,” the father of three said. “That kind of hit a switch, that kind of hit a switch for me. From that point on, I knew that my voice and my platform had to be used for more than just sports.”
That’s part of the reason James has worked to open his I Promise elementary school, which will give 240 at-risk youths the same support system that helped James go from a failing fourth grader who missed 83 days of school to a basketball superstar.
“What I want to happen is for every kid [who] walks through those doors… to be inspired, to come away with something, something where they can give back and it doesn’t matter,” James said. “It can be anything. For kids in general, all they want to know is that someone cares and when they walk through that door they know that someone cares.”