LeBron James spoke passionately in response to the hate crime against his family after racist graffiti was painted on the gate of their Los Angeles home, and said if the incident can “keep the conversation (on racism) going, to keep progressing, not regressing, I’m not against it happening.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, the longtime civil rights organizer, similarly viewed the racist incident as a growing moment for the country, and he lauded James’ handling of the matter and his big-picture perspective.
“LeBron is in a rare zone of being a high-profile super athlete and a (civil) servant leader, " Jackson told USA TODAY Sports. "He has an acute sensitivity to shining a light in dark places. He embraces that responsibility despite the risk. Athletes with greatness, who show authentic manhood, assume that risk. Muhammad Ali assumed that risk — for social justice. Now LeBron is, too.
“His genius goes far beyond the court. I just wish Dr. (Martin Luther) King had gotten to meet (James) and see the kind of man he is. He is at the level of Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood with the way he handled this.”
Jackson, who tweeted on Thursday morning that James “deserves better” and called on Americans to “stand with him,” said he intends to meet with James in person soon.
Jackson believes that James speaking out against racism during the NBA Finals can reverberate around the country at a time Jackson described as a critical state. The former politician expressed concern about racism in the U.S. — not just toward African-Americans, but other races as well. Both Jackson and James publicly supported Hillary Clinton's presidential run.
“Him speaking out now, with the platform he has, it’s a big deal,” Jackson said.
James said Wednesday that “being black in America is tough,” and referenced Emmett Till’s mother having an open casket as a way to show the world the atrocity of a hate crime.
“He was not reading from a script that PR agents prepared for him,” Jackson said. “He knows that the Civil Rights Movement made his opportunity possible. (African-Americans) have been playing basketball for a long time, but we couldn’t always play (in college) or professionally. LeBron’s using his blessings to make America and the world a better place. His legacy stretches far beyond the (basket) ball court.”
Jackson also commended James for his previous response to racism and using his platform to support issues he believes in. While playing for the Miami Heat, James protested the killing of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen who was shot to death in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer. James was prepared to lead a player boycott if former Clippers owner Donald Sterling did not have his stake in the team removed after Sterling was caught making racist remarks. Most recently, after Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones was the target of racial slurs while playing against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, James spoke out.
“LeBron is willing to extend the conversation,” Jackson said. “He knows that you can have people cheering for you, but when you put on your street clothes, you might not get the respect you deserve.”
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown also commended James on Thursday for his big-picture thinking.
Brown tweeted, “(James) is right: we have a lot of work to do. Every American has a responsibility to stand against acts of hate and intimidation. …LeBron, thank you for the example you set.”
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott praised James' response. Scott said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports: “I thought LeBron had a very poignant response to an ugly situation. He could have responded with anger, but instead opened his heart to the cameras and delivered a message that I hope will resonate with people around our nation.
"Unfortunately, some waste so much time and energy on hate that they hinder our ability to move forward together as one American family. We have made tremendous progress as a nation over the past 50 years, but actions like this show us how far we have left to go.”