It’s not the first time NBA star LeBron James has spoken out about racism. He’s used his platform to talk about the deaths of young black men like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, voiced respect for Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests, and commented on racist statements made within the NBA. Now, he’s speaking up again, but this time for a deeply personal reason. Being rich and famous doesn’t make a difference, James says, “being black in America is tough.”
The day before the first game of the NBA finals when James’ defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers were set to take on the Golden State Warriors, James’ Los Angeles home was spray-painted with a racist slur. The incident is being investigated as a possible hate crime, and investigators are hoping that security camera footage will help them identify the perpetrator.
During a press conference about the incident, James was somber and reflected on history. “I think back to Emmett Till’s mom,” James said, reflecting on her choice to have an open casket. She wanted to show the world what her son had gone through, just for “being black in America.” James summed up the incident at his home, saying, “We got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans until we feel equal in America.”
A major inspiration behind James’ increasing outspokenness about racism is his two sons. “We know racism is still alive and the only thing I can do as a role model, I feel like I’m a leader in society, is to my kids and teach the people that follow me what the right way is,” he said.
Though support for James and what he said in reaction to the incident has been widespread, there has been some criticism. Sports commentator Jason Whitlock argued that being poor is far worse than being black, so James doesn’t have any right to complain. It’s not the first time Whitlock has criticized James. He previously accused the forward of black elitism and went so far as to compare him to Donald Trump.
Other athletes, like Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown and Detroit Pistons Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, have commented on how James handled the incident with class. Thomas told NBA TV that James’ taking a stand in this way would impact generations to come. James is now attempting to shift his focus to the finals but acknowledged that this incident only reminded him that basketball is not the most important part of his life.