Mon. Jun 17th, 2019

LeBron, Trump, Politics and Sports: A Fluid Situation

NOTES: The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent the thoughts of Cleveland Sports Talk, its staff, or any of its affiliates. Feel free to comment on this or reach out to me on Twitter @CSTAlCal for thoughts or comments on this article.

Also, even though LeBron isn’t on the Cavs anymore, I felt this was appropriate to write considering he is undoubtedly the most impactful Cleveland athlete of the past 54 years and will be remembered as such.

Well, here we go again.

After an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon in which LeBron James expressed concerns about what he perceives as President Trump’s attempts to divide the country via sports, the President clapped back in a tweet that was harsh on both parties involved. 

Insulting Lemon, an Emmy award-winning journalist and James, perhaps the most well-known American athlete in the world, shows how thin-skinned our president is.

This occurs when you start your morning off with a heaping spoonful of cable news, the stress of the whole country on your shoulders and your phone in hand, ready to clap back at your supposed detractors at a moment’s notice.

All jokes aside, this isn’t anything new for anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past three years, but the pace in which we as a country have grown accustomed to the juvenile and appalling behavior in what is supposed to be a prestigious position is appalling.

The manner in which Trump has directly weighed in on sports-related issues such as the NFL’s kneeling policy, White House invites and now LeBron has partially shattered the elusive wall that tries to exist between the sports world and the country’s political landscape.

Sports are supposed to be a place where one’s race, political affiliation and overall economic status doesn’t matter, where a group of wildly different individuals can come together over something as simple as shooting around at your local gym.

James himself noted this in his interview with Lemon, saying that sports traditionally serve as an avenue for unity, not division and that it allowed him to be around other individuals that come from different backgrounds.

This isn’t to say that politics and athletes have never commingled.

After all, the 20th century saw several social movements bolstered by actions such as Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB’s color barrier, the 1968 Olympics’ “Black Power” salute and Muhammad Ali refusing to enlist due to both his religious beliefs and personal opposition to the Vietnam War. 

These were all extremely powerful statements and helped this country get closer to the ever elusive goal of equality and justice for all.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t you just say that there should be a wall between politics and athletics in this country?

Yes, I did say that. Again, this might make you jump to the assumption that both Trump and LeBron are wrong in their pursuit and adherence to certain political causes.

However, it isn’t simple and there also lies one key difference in the actions of the Commander-in-Chief and The King; one occupies the most prestigious office in the entire world, while the other is a professional athlete.

As president, Trump has an immensely powerful and visible pulpit to advocate for issues he feels are important to him, one that manifests itself not only in the way he communicates with others but actual policy-making as well.

At the same time, he is also an elected official, an individual whose job is to clearly address any valid concerns of those he represents and treat them with respect.

In layman’s terms, this means he should leave any blatant contempt and disgust for his constituents at the door and let his policies do the talking, all of which requires a certain professionalism and dignity.

LeBron, on the other hand, is not an elected official. He is merely a constituent and, as such, has a duty and right to vote, share his concerns and remain an engaged citizen.

Now, this isn’t to say that James’ actions haven’t breached the aforementioned barrier that is supposed to exist between sports and politics. It definitely has, as evidenced by the national news coverage and outpouring from both sides on Twitter.

However, LeBron did start this conversation off the court, a change from several years ago when he and former Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving wore shirts emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe” in protest of the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD in July 2014.

To LeBron’s detriment, it is also a lot easier to preach messages of disapproval for a Republican president in the very liberal climate of the NBA than a more politically divisive league, such as the NFL. This may lessen the impact of his words in some eyes.

LeBron has also been accused of having a massive ego at times, with his cryptic social media posts, million dollar mansions and decision to name one of his sons LeBron Jr. supporting this claim.

However, by keeping this off the court, James is attempting to advocate for civility in this country, all while keeping this barrier intact, an extremely admirable and difficult task.

He also isn’t just handing out lip service, as evidenced by the recent opening of his “I Promise” school and LeBron’s continued promise to stay a pillar of Northeast Ohio even during his time with the Lakers.

The bottom line is that by letting his ego get the best of him, Trump not only showed blatant disrespect for one of his more famous constituents but created even more of a fracture within this country, keeping this conversation alive and proving James’ concerns about Trump’s use of sports correct.

Perhaps the former USFL owner should’ve followed the example of his predecessor Barack Obama.

Obama did not say a thing when Tim Thomas, the goaltender on the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, declined to accompany the team to their White House visit for political reasons.

He remained mum on the issue, likely took note of Thomas’ concerns and realized how difficult it is to truly please everyone, something that Trump should’ve realized before he took office.

Thomas also kept the conversation on the issue to the minimum on his end, releasing a statement regarding his decision and stressing that it was a personal one, keeping the intersection of politics and sports to a minimum.

The goaltender kept any disrespect out of his statement which if LeBron could get criticized for one thing in this situation, it is a slight lack of that quality.

After all, calling the president a “bum” isn’t ideal but when Trump blatantly called some of his own constituents “sons of bitches” for exercising their right to free speech, this slight transgression can be excused.

To me, what this situation illustrates is the complicated, tenuous relationship between politics and sports, one that will hopefully fade into oblivion soon if we as a country figure out to better solve our problems and address the concerns of all Americans, athlete or not.

Images: ESPN

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