I Can’t Breathe: It’s time an athlete stood for something

lebroncnn ran a segment on its endless loop of regurgitated news on Monday examining how athletes taking public stands on the failures of grand juries in Missouri and New York to indict cops who killed unarmed petty-crime suspects might be hurting their brand value.

As if.

As if LeBron James is hurting his brand by wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt for warmups at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, as he did Monday night when James’ Cleveland Cavaliers played the Brooklyn Nets.

And as if James should care more about his brand than he does about taking the occasional stand.

OK, so this would be the first meaningful public stand for James, for former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, for the group of St. Louis Rams who flashed a “hands up, don’t shoot” sign in pregame intros a couple of weeks ago.

For the past couple of decades, athletes followed in the tradition of Michael Jordan, who made his mint off the court by famously avoiding any kind of brand controversy. Once asked why he didn’t endorse former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, an African-American who was challenging blatant racist Sen. Jesse Helms for his seat in the Senate, Jordan callously observed, “Because Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Indeed, they do. And buy tickets to basketball games, and football games. And yet sports has for the longest time been about more than fun and games – and money. Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier, and sparked the civil-rights movement. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in a moment that, agree or not with what they were saying, you won’t forget.

Then we get Jordan avoiding controversy to make more bank. tiger woods was even more careful to steer clear of anything political that would undermine Tiger Inc. from maximizing revenues.

Which brings us to LBJ. Dude is everywhere all year long selling us stuff, so it’s not like he doesn’t put his bottom line at risk taking a stand on the Eric Garner case. Republicans buy mobile phones and sports drinks in addition to shoes these days.

Pat on the back to LeBron for the stand. Whether you agree with him or not, let’s hope this starts a trend.

– Column by Chris Graham


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