LeBron James, who has been called “the signature socially conscious athlete of his time,” told reporters on Tuesday that he wasn’t informed enough about the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice to comment on the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers involved.
His comments came after a group of activists online started a #NoJusticeNoLeBron campaign, asking the NBA superstar and Cleveland native to sit out of Cleveland Cavaliers games until the Department of Justice “imprisons the murderers” of Rice.
“I haven’t really been on top of this issue. So it’s hard for me to comment,” James said, as reported by ESPN. “I understand that any lives that [are] lost, what we want more than anything is prayer and the best for the family, for anyone. But for me to comment on the situation, I don’t have enough knowledge about it.”
This is out of character for James, who has been unusually outspoken about issues of race and justice for a superstar athlete in the prime of his career. In March 2012, James and his Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade organized a team photo that showcased all of the players wearing hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin, the black 17-year-old who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman while walking through an affluent Florida neighborhood wearing a hoodie.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 23, 2012
Last December, James (along with other NBA players) wore an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt during warm-ups of a game, echoing the final words of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old man who was choked to death by a police officer while being arrested for illegally selling cigarettes in Staten Island.
When the grand jury decided not to indict the officer who killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., James tweeted a drawing of Martin and Brown arm-in-arm, with the caption, “As a society how do we do better and stop things like this happening time after time!! I’m so sorry to these families. Violence is not the answer people. Retaliation isn’t the solution as well. #PrayersUpToTheFamilies #WeHaveToDoBetter.”
So it makes sense why activists would turn to him to comment on the Rice case, especially because it’s in his backyard. James, who grew up poor and was raised by a single mother in Akron, has a foundation that focuses on mentoring and providing opportunities to at-risk youth in the community. This year, his foundation partnered with the University of Akron and he pledged $41 million in scholarship money for as many as 2,000 kids in the community. James has also been outspoken about local issues recently — telling reporters “there’s no room for guns” after a five-year-old baby was shot in the chest and killed in Cleveland in October.
But, as many have pointed out, putting the onus of justice all on James’ shoulders isn’t the answer either. The lack of justice for the death of a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun should be something that we all have to answer to.
Go ask Johnny Manziel about Tamir Rice. I'm not interested in placing the burden for empathy and activism on just one sports dude.
— Joel D. Anderson (@byjoelanderson) December 30, 2015
Additionally, the call for James to sit out games — which would negatively impact his teammates, coaches, owners, sponsors, fans, and career — is a drastic one that would likely do nothing but distract from the real issue. While the #NoJusticeNoLeBron activists have brought up Muhammad Ali and the University of Missouri football team as proof of the power of athlete protests, those situations are not directly comparable to this one.
Ali was being personally drafted into the war when he spoke out against the treatment of blacks in the United States and became a conscientious objector, and only after his arrest was he stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years. James is not in danger of being drafted. Meanwhile, the Missouri football team’s decision to boycott this fall would have had a direct impact on the university, and therefore was a useful tool in getting the university’s president to resign. However, Cavaliers games have no direct impact on the DOJ.
Still, James’ admittance that he’s “not informed” on the Rice case suggests that perhaps he is not as “socially conscious” as he has seemed. Rice was shot and killed over a year ago, and the details of the case are readily available. Unlike the Brown or Martin murders, there is even video of Rice’s murder.
James said on Tuesday night that he has been “very outspoken about what I believe in” and what “hits home for me.” He defended his lack of a comment on the Rice case by saying that he hasn’t spoken about other issues, such as the San Bernardino massacre and the Aurora movie theater shooting, because of a lack of knowledge.
However, considering James has two boys of his own, has spoken out about racial injustices and police brutality in the past, and lives in the Cleveland area, it’s unclear why this wasn’t a situation that hit home for him.
“Me having two boys of my own, if just one day my kids left home to go anywhere, you expect your kids to return. You expect your kids to return home unless they’re off to college,” James told CNN’s Rachel Nichols in 2014.
“I couldn’t imagine them not returning home because of someone else, I don’t know, just not thinking, or cowardice act, or whatever the case may be.”