“When you come at the king, you best not miss.”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham would have been wise to remember this famous quip from The Wire before her harangue against Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James. Always on the ready for her next tantrum, Ingraham was responding to a YouTube video featuring James, fellow NBA star Kevin Durant and ESPN’s Cari Champion in which James said that President Trump does not “give a f***about the people.” The Fox News host’s response was perfectly emblematic of how the right has responded to politically minded athletes in the Trump era. The message is simple, if you’re a black athlete, keep your mouth shut and “stick to sports.”
In fact, in Ingraham’s disgusting segment on James’ comments, she said just that, telling him to “Shut up and dribble.” Dripping with condescension, Ingraham called James comments “ignorant,” imploring the audience to remember that its “always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid 100 million dollars a year to bounce a ball.” She even “ignorantly” claimed that James left high school a year early.
When Ingraham asks, “Why must they run their mouths like that?” Who is she talking about exactly? One wonders if Ingraham has ever watched her own network, which frequently features such philosopher-kings as musicians Kidrock, Ted Nugent and Gene Simmons, baseball players Curt Schilling and Johnny Damon, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, and even famed romance novel cover model Fabio, who are all free to opine on the issues of the day. What characteristic do that have that James doesn’t?
If you compare LeBron James’ life story to President Trump’s, only of them represents what Republicans so frequently point to when they talk about the American dream. James came from nothing – the son of a teenager mother in decrepit Akron, Ohio – who now presides over a business empire and is a devoted father and husband. In fact, James has never been befouled by personal scandal. Trump inherited money from his wealthy father to start his business and is a serial philanderer who has been married three times. Twelve women accused President Trump of sexual harassment during the presidential campaign, and of course there have been many, many scandals since.
Ingraham’s pathetic denunciation of LeBron is premised on the idea that James has no right to call out President Trump because he is a “rich athlete,” as if that insulates him from America’s race issues. Just last year, James had the n-word spray-painted on his home in Los Angeles. Should he keep quiet about that too?
White NBA coaches like Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr and Stan Van Gundy have all publicly excoriated President Trump since he began campaigning for president. But, Fox hasn’t covered their comments or told them to shut up and coach. The bottom line: President Trump, Fox, and their acolytes simply can’t tolerate black professional athletes with opinions.
Perhaps most laughable is Ingraham’s attempt to paint James as some sort of dense caveman, capable of only dribbling and dunking. Aside from his business empire, he has been at the vanguard in promoting players’ rights and his foundation has committed over $40 million dollars to pay for Akron students’ tuition at the University of Akron. He has long championed the importance of education. James willingness to tackle these issues, to not worry that “Republicans buy sneakers too,” has made him one of the most powerful voices in professional sports and emboldened other NBA players to speak out on social issues.
Coming days before the NBA’s All-Star weekend, James had an even bigger platform to respond to Ingraham and a host of NBA players and other majors figures, such as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts, offered their criticism of Ingraham’s comments. For his part, James said, “We will definitely not shut up and dribble because I mean too much society … to my wife, my family and all these other kids that look up to me for inspiration.” James added, “The best thing she [Ingraham] did was help me create more awareness. To sit here at NBA All-Star Weekend, the best weekend of the NBA, and talk about social injustice, equality.”
Ingraham’s response only confirms what James has been saying about President Trump all along. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he called out the president for stoking racism, noting, “The guy in control has given people and racism, and negative racism, an opportunity to be out and outspoken without fear.” Much like James has galvanized young athletes to take a stand on social issues, President Trump has increasingly normalized racist language and given a platform to those who wish to spew it.
More than anything, these types of comments from Ingraham and Trump demonstrate their fear. LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick and other athletes that have taken a stand against injustice motivate their fellow athletes, young people, other marginalized groups to be engaged in the political process in ways that politicians can only dream of.
Ingraham can try and color her criticism with a veneer of intellectual pretension all she wants, but it rings hollow to anyone who knows anything about James. As James has demonstrated time again on the basketball court over the last 15 years, he doesn’t suffer fools. Fortunately, I don’t think he will be keeping his mouth shut anytime soon.
Adam Gallagher is an editor and senior writer at Tropics of Meta, focusing on U.S. foreign policy, politics and sports. He was previously a contributor at The Hill, and his work has appeared in The American Prospect, The Huffington Post, The Progressive, The National Interest, The Diplomat, International Policy Digest and for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Urban History Association, among other outlets. He has been an officially accredited election observer in Tunisia (2014), Myanmar (2015) and Liberia (2017). Follow him on Twitter @aegallagher10.