The NBA, as one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States, has come to be of cultural importance to this nation. The League has been experiencing a rise in popularity due to its overabundance of talented players, who often transcend the boundaries of the court.
Superstars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant have made monumental impacts off the court through their charitable donations and political demonstrations.
The LeBron James Family Foundation has changed the future for countless students at Akron High School, spending $41 million to send them to the University of Akron for free. Similarly, Kevin Durant recently donated $10 million to send underprivileged students from his home area of Prince George’s County, Md. to college.
In addition to these charitable efforts, the NBA’s brightest stars have often been at the forefront of powerful political statements.
At the 2016 ESPYs, along with LeBron, guard Chris Paul, guard Dwyane Wade and forward Carmelo Anthony took several minutes at the beginning of the show to directly speak to the audience about getting involved in social issues like racial injustice and police brutality.
In 2014, across the NBA, LeBron James and other players wore shirts with the last words of police brutality victim Eric Garner, “I Can’t Breathe.”
James, who is unequivocally the face of the League, has not been shy to speak out against the 45th President of the United States during his first term in office.
“Trump has given racism an opportunity to be outspoken without fear and made hate fashionable again,” James tweeted after the violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.
Most recently, in an interview with Durant and ESPN host Cari Champion, LeBron once again railed against Trump, who he claimed “really don’t give a fuck about the people.”
These last comments caught the attention of Fox News reporter Laura Ingraham, who took James’ comments as an opportunity to silence him. She remarked that because LeBron was drafted out of high school, he speaks in vernacular and not in perfect English and that he gets paid millions of dollars a year to merely “dribble a ball,” he has no standing to comment on politics. “Shut up and dribble,” she asserted.
Shut up and dribble.
This statement is a classic example of the coded language often used to criticize influential black athletes when they try to speak out.
When former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his activism and protest, he was told to “stick to sports” and that he had no place in any sort of political atmosphere. “Stick to sports” is the most common way of telling athletes to just “be quiet and entertain us.”
They do not want outspoken athletes to have opinions. They expect black athletes to fit into a box and to be cut off from society.
However, LeBron is a perfect example of why he and other athletes should never “shut up and dribble.”
He has been at the forefront of activism and philanthropy for the majority of his career. His focus on the ideals of social justice and equality have spurred a revival in political activism and charitable actions across the NBA.
From his infamous “The Decision,” he donated $2.5 million to the Boys and Girls Club of America. He donated $2.5 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is dedicated to educating visitors on African-American history and spreading understanding of African-American culture to the masses.
On top of this, he began the After-School All-Stars program with his foundation, helping “at-risk” children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio by providing them with mentors to encourage the kids to stay in school and graduate.
LeBron’s achievements and outspoken activism have motivated other athletes to rise up and speak out. He has spearheaded the recent movement by NBA athletes to put more resources into their communities.
Carmelo Anthony is an example of this. Melo, who grew up in Baltimore, has been on the frontlines of community outreach, constantly working with community organizers and speaking out against police brutality.
The important work that these athletes do would not have been possible if they had stayed silent on the sidelines. The powerful influence that the stars of the United States’ most popular professional sports league is too great to pass up. Their talents are not limited to the court.
Today’s NBA athletes have the responsibility and the right to be positive forces in their respective communities. They have the chance to be positive role models for young black Americans. To just “shut up and dribble” is not an option when there is much more work to be done.