As you’ve probably read elsewhere, LeBron James has rejected calls to lead an Martin Luther King Day NBA boycott in protest to the non-indictment of 2 Cleveland police officers in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. While The Nation’s Dave Zirin is uncomfortable with the sole burden falling on James’ shoulders (“Ask Kevin Love to sit out. Ask Matthew Dellavedova to sit out. Ask them all. Their hometown police murdered a twelve-year-old,”), he also argues the #NoJusticeNoLeBron campaign, “contains a measure of strategic genius.”
The motivation for this initiative is precisely rooted in the belief that those in power – as well as the white mass of Cleveland sports fans – are blithely ignoring this injustice. The hope is that LeBron, with all of his fame, can puncture privilege, tear the blinders off of those who care more about a Cavs championship than a police murder of a child, and get people to “see” Tamir Rice.
If one agrees that white people need to confront the reality of this killing – and all the police violence that dots the country – consider that Tariq Toure alone has been able to put discussion of this debate on ESPN, on popular sports websites, on the Network News, and on sports radio; in other words, in front of white eyes and ears. Most of these commentators derided the call, defending LeBron like he is a fragile flower who might wither in the face of a hashtag. Let them bloviate. Millions of readers and listeners had to reckon with the death of Tamir Rice, amidst New Year’s college football bowl coverage, and see the face of a child the mainstream media and Cleveland politicians wanted to relegate to the holiday shadows.
The lovers of LeBron will always defend him. The haters of Black Lives Matter will always find an excuse. But the people who want to see change should see athletes as potential and powerful allies. If we don’t engage them with the world outside the athletic bubble, then inside the bubble they shall remain.