Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Social Issues Are out of Bounds No Longer

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Social Issues Are out of Bounds No Longer

Article excerpt

Against the backdrop of the Barclays Center was this remarkable portrait of society 2014, a Monday night mash-up of the man they call King on the basketball court, of actual British royalty sitting next to the court, and of American protesters demonstrating outside the arena.

It was an NBA game between the Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers that hosted these seemingly disparate intersecting lines, and by the time the flash bulbs stopped popping and the special guests stopped posing, it was the NBA's biggest star who emerged with the most memorable image of the night.

By choosing to wear a T-shirt with the phrase "I Can't Breathe" printed on it during warm-ups, LeBron James may have joined a chorus already in session, both in the sports world and in society at large. But with the power of his stardom and the magnitude of his profile, James underscored the changing climate our sports stars now inhabit.

More than ever, athletes are willing to speak their minds about non-sports issues, and James is bringing the loudest voice. Whether you agree with him or not is not so much the point; what is genuinely refreshing is to stand witness to his courage to share his convictions, to contribute to a difficult conversation in thoughtful, caring terms, to risk the wrath of corporate or fan backlash to say what he thinks is right.

Unlike his basketball predecessor, Michael Jordan, the greatest all-time player on the court who famously avoided a political debate with the quip, "Republicans buy sneakers, too," or golf superstar Tiger Woods, a black man whose membership would have been denied at so many of the private golf courses he played at, but who couldn't once declare a public need for Augusta National to admit a female member, James is ushering us into a different, more vocal future.

On Monday, he was declaring his support for Staten Island resident Eric Garner, the black man who died in police custody in part due to an apparent chokehold, an incident for which the NYPD officer involved was not indicted. The Garner incident, on the heels of the decision not to indict the white officer in the shooting death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., led to sustained protests across the country, including one staged on Brooklyn's streets Monday night, at a game attended by Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate. James, moved by the families who lost someone to the violence as much as he was shaken by acts of violence in response, spoke to the simple wish for us all to do, and be, better.

"It's just for us to make a [statement] to understand what we're going through as a society," he said before his Cavaliers went out and beat the Nets, echoing some of the same thoughts he shared prior to a win over the neighboring Knicks last week.

"I've been quoted over and over about what's going on. …

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