In the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality and racial equality in America, media organizations such as Fox News taken it upon themselves to push the message of “athletes and actors shouldn’t use their fame to express political beliefs.” Apparently, according to a significant percentage of this nation, if you are blessed with extraordinary athletic or acting ability, you are duty bound to perform like a trained seal for everyone and never express a thought of your own. We saw this when several NFL players kneeled for the National Anthem at the start of this past football season. We saw this after Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech last January. And now, we are seeing it playing out again as Fox News commentator/personification of pond scum Laura Ingraham attacked Lebron James for his recent remarks regarding Donald Trump, telling him to “shut up and dribble.”
In case you missed it, the story began when Lebron went on his Uninterrupted platform with Kevin Durant and told his viewers that Trump “doesn’t give a fuck about the people.” Ingraham fired back, telling Lebron that he should keep the political commentary to himself and instead just “shut up and dribble.” Insane response. As the cherry on top, Ingraham added that “it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.”
— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 17, 2018
First, “Shut up and dribble” is essentially the equivalent of telling a woman to “get back in the kitchen.” You’re telling someone that, solely because of what they do and who they are, that their opinion is somehow less valuable than your own. Just as telling a woman to “get back in the kitchen” implies that a woman’s voice is less than a man’s, what Ingraham said to Lebron implies that, since he’s an athlete, his opinion on political issues is worthless. If Ingraham really wanted to make whatever point she was trying to make, there were probably 1,000 ways to say it that are less ignorant, less offensive, and less racist.
As bad as the statement is, the message behind it is even worse. Athletes are citizens of this country just like everyone else. They vote, they pay taxes, and they suffer the same consequences of every decision our politicians make. They have every right to have their voices heard just the same as anyone else in this country, regardless of profession. To say that by reaching a certain level of athletic success you lose your right to openly comment on political concerns defies all logic. Also, Ingraham picked the worst possible target to accuse of getting paid to just “bounce a ball.” Lebron James, love him or hate him, has achieved as much off-court success as any current athlete. He’s sent underprivileged kids to college, he’s a huge booster of the Boys and Girls Club, and he’s even opening his own goddamn school in Akron for at-risk children. Lebron does more good for this country before breakfast every day than Laura Ingraham has done in her life. To accuse him of being nothing but some dumb jock is crazy.
On top of being offensive and unfair, this narrative of “athletes are just there to shut up and perform” is also historically inaccurate. Black athletes in this country have helped push forward the fight for equality ever since they began competing. Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics shattered Hitler’s myth of white superiority by winning four gold medals. Owens returned to an America that still resented him for his skin color, but his achievements are often credited for kick-starting the Civil Rights movement. Then, in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Robinson is noted for enduring the “separate but equal” treatment of the times with poise, but ultimately became outspoken about the treatment that black Americans endured. In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos both raised closed fists into the Mexico City night while on the podium for the 200 meter dash in a demonstration of black power. Perhaps the most famous athlete of the Civil Rights movement, though, was Muhammad Ali. When the Vietnam War began, Ali announced publicly that he would refuse to serve in the military if drafted, famously stating “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” Even after the war, he continued to be a champion of black rights in America and later would also support Muslim-Americans in the wake of 9/11. And guess what, the Laura Ingraham’s of the time probably told them all to “shut up and dribble”, as well.
As long as those in power are threatened by opposing voices, they will always find ways to attempt to belittle and devalue those voices. Laura Ingraham’s remarks to Lebron James are just another example of that. Lebron has the same right as anyone else does to criticize our leadership, but while they don’t fear most of us, Ingraham’s camp is actually afraid of Lebron. Much like many of the celebrities they bitch about, he’s popular, he’s powerful, and the things he says matter to a lot of people. Their only response is to personally attack those voices and attempt to discredit them with claims of “he’s just a football player” or “she’s just Hollywood elite.” Well, guess what? They’re wrong. Athlete’s voices matter, they’ve always mattered, and they will continue to matter and that is what Laura Ingraham is afraid of. Just like Robinson’s critics and Ali’s critics, Ingraham will wind up on the wrong side of history because Lebron James and the rest of those that support this fight are not going to shut up and dribble.