(AP Photo/LeBron James via Twitter)
“I’m LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not supposed to be here.… I AIN’T GOT NO WORRIES!”
I want to know what LeBron James thinks about the not-guilty verdict that freed Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. Is that fair? Is it fair to yearn for a political response on a polarizing and painful issue from someone who puts a ball through a hoop for a living? My friend Mike Freeman over at CBS Sports said to me, “I’d rather hear more from President Obama about this than LeBron.” That’s a very good point. But I’ll also maintain that we have every right to expect a comment on this Florida travesty from Florida’s most famous resident. This isn’t like waiting for Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning or Mariano Rivera to enlighten us with their thoughts about the fact that George Zimmerman somehow walked. LeBron James is different because he made himself different.
In 2012, LeBron James famously organized the entire Heat squad across all geographical and demographic lines to wear hoodies for Trayvon, their heads bowed in protest. LeBron himself wrote “Trayvon RIP” on his sneakers, and his teammate Dwyane Wade did the same with the message We Want Justice. Given that James was a man with legions of haters, without a ring and still smarting from the Heat’s loss in the 2011 championship against the Dallas Mavericks, taking time out for a highly charged political stance held more than a little risk. But LeBron didn’t care and his sense that Trayvon mattered more than his “brand” truly meant something. After the photo was taken, Trayvon’s father Tracy said, “These athletes are saying, ‘It’s not about who I am. It’s about right and wrong…. The Miami Heat came out in their hoodies, and that’s just saying, ‘We are people, we have hearts, we have feelings, we have emotions.’ That’s a warm feeling.”
Now, just seventeen months later, James is athletically and culturally in a different stratosphere. The Heat have won two titles. He has hit every shot, answered every question and silenced every hater. He has 9.1 million Twitter followers and is perhaps the world’s most important athlete. He was even feeling secure enough in Game Six of the 2013 finals to toss off his headband and show the world his hairline. Then after their Game Seven triumph, he loosened up on the trophy stand and said the words that that made my friend Kevin (his words) “burst with a black working man’s pride,” saying, “I’m LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not supposed to be here.… I AIN’T GOT NO WORRIES!”
Well, now we have worries. LeBron: You have more cultural capital that anyone in the state of Florida. You have already made clear that you care deeply about what happened that rainy night when a teenager went out for Skittles and ended up dead. You identified with the anger people feel toward a criminal justice system that saw Trayvon Martin as disposable perhaps precisely because you were someone who wasn’t “even supposed to be here.”
You once said that your dream was to be “a global icon like Muhammad Ali.” That takes a hell of a lot more than just titles. It takes a certain dogged persistence on questions many simply don’t want asked. As Ali once said, “I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.” Freedom still eludes far too many. When the verdict came down, your teammate Dwyane Wade said, ““Wow!!! Stunned!!! Saddened as a father!!! Some1 make sense of this verdict for me right now please!!! Don’t worry I’ll wait…” You’ve still said nothing. Anything would mean something. Even simple words of support and prayer for the Martin family would matter. I’m glad you have no worries. But the worries are knocking at your door.
Let’s be honest: no one is waiting for what Michael Jordan has to say about this case. But you showed last year that you’re not him. You showed, as Tracy Martin said, that you “have a heart.” I can’t help think about those three simple words D-Wade wrote on his sneakers: We Want Justice. We’re still waiting for justice. We’re also waiting for you. Thousands of us will be in front of the Justice Department this Saturday whether you say something or not. The train is leaving the station. It’s a train upon which you’ve already traveled. All we want is for you to get back on board.
John Nichols reports on the burgeoning movement in Florida to repeal the Stand Your Ground law.