The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Ira Newble recently wrote an open letter criticizing China’s role in the Darfur genocide, urging fellow basketball players to pressure China to change its policy ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics. “China cannot be a legitimate host to the premier international event in the sporting world – the Summer Olympic Games – while it remains complicit in the terrible suffering and destruction that continues to this day,” the letter stated.
While most of Newble’s teammates signed the letter, only two did not: Damon Jones and LeBron James. James, one of the NBA’s most recognizable faces, is a perennial all-star and was named a tri-captain of the 2006 USA World Championship Team. In an op-ed in today’s Christian Science Monitor, NYU history professor Jonathan Zimmerman explains the dynamics behind Jones and James’s decision:
James said he didn’t have enough information about the issue to take a stand. Mr. Jones wouldn’t comment. We can choose to take them at their word, of course — or we can follow the money. Jones has an endorsement contract with an up-and-coming Chinese shoe and apparel company. James has a $90 million deal with Nike, which has huge business interests in China. [...]
Ironically, LeBron James has not decided whether he will compete in Beijing. But in the real battle, over Darfur, James has elected to stay on the sidelines. That’s his right, of course. And the rest of us have the right to call his behavior what it is.
China is Sudan’s largest trading partner. Brookings scholar Roberta Cohen wrote, “Were China to use even a small part of its leverage to call Sudan to account, it would go a long way toward saving lives in Sudan.”
In July 2005, the Center for American Progress Action Fund teamed up with the Genocide Intervention Fund to call citizens to “be a witness” of the genocide and ask major television networks to report on the massacre. James now appears in Nike advertisements calling others to be a witness… of his basketball stardom: