Tamir Rice will forever be 12 years old, sentenced to death by Cleveland’s police for holding a toy gun and “being a child while black.” In the aftermath of the grand jury’s inability to even secure an indictment, Baltimore-based journalist Tariq Toure started the hashtag #NoJusticeNoLeBron which aimed to “Call on LeBron James to lead a collective sit out on MLK day in solidarity with Tamir Rice and his family.” (Read Tariq Toure’s full explanation of his motivations here.)
This demand put before Cleveland’s basketball messiah provoked a biblical-sized backlash comprised of one of the more bizarre combinations of people imaginable: people who love LeBron James and saw the hashtag as some kind of attack against him; people who despise the #BlackLivesMatter movement, particularly some of the young leadership who embraced this call; and people who stand with the struggle 1000% but think in the words of Professor Lou Moore, “the idea of attempting to force a black man into doing anything seems an awful folly for activists to pursue.”
I strongly agree with Lou Moore and countless others that the idea black athletes have some kind of greater responsibility to speak out after such an egregious injustice, is grossly unfair. I’ve written repeatedly that it’s long past time for white athletes to be put on the hot seat. Ask Kevin Love to sit out. Ask Matthew Dellavedova to sit out. Ask them all. Their hometown police murdered a twelve-year-old. It shouldn’t be business as usual in the wake such a tragedy.
But the call for LeBron to sit out one game on the day we celebrate Dr. King’s birth contains a measure of strategic genius that people who stand with #BlackLivesMatter yet disagree with this hashtag, should take seriously.
First and foremost, it is highly disingenuous to pretend that LeBron is just another athlete, especially in Cleveland, and is being asked to boycott soley because of the historic burden foisted upon black athletes to do more than just play. LeBron has asked for this weight, even demanded it. He has dramatically commented on other racist killings, organizing the Heat to pay tribute to the late Trayvon Martin by getting the team to pose in hoodies and having most of the Cavaliers last year wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts after the Staten Island police choked Eric Garner to death.
LeBron has also spoken repeatedly about his desire to be a “global icon like Muhammad Ali,” and his dreams of dunking on George W. Bush. He even uses the incendiary Public Enemy track Welcome to the Terrordome in his new Samsung Commercial.
But the fact that Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland makes the connection to LeBron all the more acute. Upon choosing to return home, LeBron said, “This is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up.”