If You Hate LeBron, Are You A Racist?


Apparently last night on an interview on CNN, both LeBron James and his manager, Maverick Carter, said some of the reason that people are so furious at LeBron is due to racism, as detailed in this report:

In the interview, CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien asked about “The Decision,” the one-hour special on ESPN in which James announced that he would play for the Heat, and some of the negative headlines it generated.

“It’s just about control and not doing it the way it’s always been done or not looking the way that it always looks,” Carter said.

O’Brien asked if race played a role.

“I think so at times,” James said. “It’s always, you know, a race factor.”

Said Carter: “It definitely played a role in some of the stuff coming out of the media, things that were written for sure.”

Not long ago, when news hit that LeBron’s Q-Rating (a ranking of popularity) had plummeted, making him now the 6th most hated athlete, there was a wonderful article by ESPN’s Vincent Thomas.  By looking more closely at the numbers he noticed that while many African-Americans didn’t quite love LeBron as much as before, the number of them who hated him didn’t really increase.  Amongst them his negative Q rating went from 14 to 15, while amongst non-blacks LBJ’s negative Q rating cratered from 24 to 44.  Based on all the people that he’s spoken with, here’s what Thomas thinks:

The general, expressed sentiment of African-Americans has been, “I may not have agreed with how LeBron carried the whole free-agency thing, but I’m not gonna hate the man.” The more America shuns LeBron, the more Black America retreats to his corner. In fact, as America hates LeBron more and more, Black America’s collective hug embraces LeBron tighter and tighter. It’s called black protectionism.

For those who don’t know, the expression black protectionism first came about after the O.J. Simpson trial.

What makes LeBron even more ripe for protectionism is the fact that he hasn’t been charged with a crime or accused of an ethical violation. Nah, he just angered a bunch of sports fans with a wack decision and an even wacker “Decision,” and now half of America thinks he’s either a punk or a jerk.

[…]  Why?  Because “The Decision” was annoying and self-indulgent? I’m sorry, but Brett Favre was nowhere to be found on The Q Scores Co.’s top 10 most disliked list. And, dig this: America dislikes LeBron more than it dislikes Ben Roethlisberger. That’s just not deserved. So, you know what? Enter the ride-or-die black community.

“The more LeBron is vilified,” [the woman who coined the term black protectionism, Katheryn] Russell-Brown said, “the more the community will respond. Protectionism comes in as a tempering.”

All that of stuff sounds pretty reasonable to me as reasons why African-Americans have refused to pummel LeBron like the rest of the country.  What I have issue with though is the twisted converse argument Thomas throws out at his article’s beginning and which TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott goes into in his post discussing the article: that non-blacks must hate James due to racism.   It’s sloppy incorrect logic.

Not to get all geeky on you, and bear with me for a second, but mathematical logic rules verify this.  Let’s say “A=being black” and “B=supporting LeBron due to his race.”  In math, if A implies B, the converse is also true, “not B” implies “not A”, however, “not A” doesn’t imply “not B.”  Meaning if A is true (you’re black), then B is true (you support him due to race), but “not A” (you’re not black) doesn’t imply “not B” (you don’t support him due to his race).

This isn’t to say that I’m naive and live in a colorblind world (although I am actually literally genetically colorblind).  I fully believe a big part of why many non-blacks hate LeBron is due to racism.  Yes, we still live in a very racist society, and I’m not even talking about the people who overtly say to themselves that they hate blacks or other races.  Pretty much everyone (except maybe kids two and younger who’ve yet to grasp that people have different races) has racist tendencies.  Sometimes it’s harmless, but like if say you see an athletic-looking muscular 6’3″ black guy on the street, regardless of whether you’re white, black or whatever, you’ll probably assume he’s fairly decent at basketball.  No one’s hurt by that assumption, but if say, the dude was Asian, you might not even think of bball.

If we look at the Q ratings above from before “The Decision,” we can see even back then non-blacks disliked James significantly more than blacks (24 to 14).  We are a racist society.  And if you want to use LeBron taking his talents to South Beach as an excuse to talk about racism, well, it’s a topic that doesn’t get discussed nearly as much as it should be, so fine.  But to imply that the key reason non-blacks so passionately dislike LeBron is due to racism is downright offensive.  Here’s Abbott’s take:

I used to wonder why people were so upset, and even hateful toward LeBron James ever since The Decision. But now the question is more along the lines of: Why are white people so upset.[sic]  The laundry list of complaints I have heard from NBA fans directly is almost too long to catalog, […] but none of that, to me, explains the depth of the passion and hatred that you’re likely to find in the comments of this very post, and others like it on the topic.

[…]  A theory: It’s because he stepped out of place. Players play. That’s how it was. They are quiet and sweaty craftsmen who ought not to be heard from except to call out plays and say “yessir” to the coach. The way sports used to be, owners did things like make billion-dollar decisions and general managers and agents did things like agonize over personnel.

Again, maybe some people feel that way, but I believe that it’s (hopefully) a marginal point-of-view.  After all, aside from Toronto Raptors fans, no one had an issue with Chris Bosh being in control of his destiny and choosing to go to Miami.  The thing that Abbott doesn’t seem to get is that the reason many people are angry, is because the hero they worshiped turned out to have less faith in himself than they did and thus didn’t have the confidence to go it alone.  It’s like finding out that your dad is a small weak man.

When we worship a sports hero, it’s because of what they do on the field/court/whatever.  We can forgive things done outside the sports world.  Fans forgave Jason Kidd for abusing his wife, Kobe for alleged rape/definite infidelity.  That same willingness to forgive for “outside issues” is also the case with heroes in other realms.  Roman Polanski, found guilty of statutory rape, won an Academy Award.  Elia Kazan gave names to add to the Black List, yet he’s still considered one of the great directors of all time.  Woody Allen married his own daughter, but does that make us love “Annie Hall” any less?  So while what Roethlisberger did was evil, and Favre’s retire-or-not crap went way beyond annoying, at least neither of them doubted their abilities on the field.

We realized way before Bosh that he could never be the centerpiece of a championship team, which is why his going to Miami didn’t bother us (again, except the Toronto fans).  We saw that while Dwayne Wade is a mega-star, he definitely couldn’t win another ring without some help as the Heat have been stuck in mediocrity for the last few years despite his stellar play.  So fine, he can get help.  We saw Kobe Bryant unable to win on his own, so even though everyone hated that the Grizzlies gave the Lakers Pau Gasol for nothing, we knew Kobe needed help.

However, LeBron, even though his team had no other sure-thing regular All-Stars, he had lead them to the best record in the league for the past two years.  This wasn’t Kobe, Wade or Bosh struggling on teams winning 35-45 games and thus needing big, big help.  This Cavs team was a top team that twice now had a legit shot at winning it all, and were one of the most favored teams to do it.  LeBron needed to add another tweak to the team, not a major overhaul.  Heck, since Antawn Jamison came over late in the season, maybe the team as constituted could’ve won it all with a full season to develop chemistry.  If he’d had stayed, any fan would’ve bet good money that the Cavs would win a ring in the next five years.  No one would’ve taken that bet for Kobe, Wade or Bosh before they got their big additions.

That’s part of what makes it even more disappointing, because it isn’t just that LeBron is a great player, it’s that he has the tools to be the greatest player ever.  I know this may sound like blasphemy, but could even Michael Jordan have lead that Cavs team to as many wins as LBJ did?  Jordan played alongside Scottie Pippen, a top 50 player of all time.  I doubt anyone else on the Cavs will even be a top 50 player during just this decade.

LeBron should win more rings now than he would’ve if he stayed in Cleveland.  But he stole from us the chance to see how great he truly could be.  The chance to see if, in fact, he could be the best player ever.  For sports fans, there can be no worse crime.

Regardless of your skin color.