It seems that the Reverend Jesse Jackson has jumped into the ongoing the LeBron James saga. After the well-publicized decision by James to go play for the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert engaged in a verbal lashing of LeBron, describing him as a traitor for leaving the city of Cleveland to go play for the Miami Heat. Well, Rev. Jackson has stepped in, stating that Gilbert’s attack on James was not only uncalled for, but that Gilbert was behaving as if he owned James, bringing forth comparisons to slavery. Jackson’s said:
He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.
First, I agree with Rev. Jackson in this sense: The way James is being portrayed in public reminds me of the kinds of self-righteous value judgments people make against African-American athletes on a regular basis. By simply making a business decision that is best for his family, James has suddenly been defined by sports writers and some members of the public as a “great athlete, but a bad human being,” which can almost be as bad as being a criminal.
WATCH REV. JESSE JACKSON DEFEND HIS COMMENTS ON MSNBC
Let’s be clear: LeBron James has not been arrested, caught in a bar room brawl, beat his baby mama or done anything that would allow us to somehow decide he’s a bad person for not giving up the rest of his career and staying in a city he probably wanted to leave years ago. Cleveland is a wonderful place, but LeBron James was literally giving up millions of dollars in opportunities (not to mention his legacy) by staying there for as long as he did.
Second, it must be remembered that Dan Gilbert happens to be white, but he is not a representative of white America. One silly team owner’s statement does not imply that the entire country sees LeBron James as a runaway slave. I am sure there are many white folks, even Gilbert’s fellow owners, who held their noses and covered their faces when he made his ridiculous comments about LeBron. So, extrapolating the racial dimension of this clearly racialized saga must be done delicately and not with a rusty butter knife (not that Rev. Jackson has done this, but this should be kept in mind as we interpret his remarks). We can all tell that race is certainly in the room in the LeBron James trading decision, we just can’t quite figure out where it is.
I can imagine that many Green Bay Packers fans had a lot of “interesting” things to say about Brett Favre when he left to go play for the Jets and Vikings. So, this is not just about race.
Third, one area where race does enter the picture is the fact that NBA players (most of whom are black) are certainly the property of the league. Most of the players think they’re getting rich, when the truth is that they are being financially pimp-slapped.
Collective bargaining agreements keep salaries so restricted that players are not earning anything near their full market value. Not to say that we should ever feel sorry for someone earning millions of dollars per year, but a fair market would have led to Kobe Bryant earning over $50 million per year, since he brings at least that much to the Lakers organization with his presence.
Instead, that money gets pocketed by the owners. Additionally, when one throws in the manner by which players are controlled by the league in almost every aspect of their lives, William Rhoden’s concept of the “40 million dollar slave” is certainly in full-effect. Most NBA players are given some of the largest and most impactful platforms in America, and punished severely if they choose to use those platforms to pursue any form of social justice. This adds to the fact that most NBA players are not very well educated by their universities, making them wealthy and popular yet socially impotent.
So yes, Jackson is right that LeBron is seen as a piece of property by guys like Dan Gilbert. I only wonder how well LeBron and his fellow players understand that.