By Ken Reed

LeBron James got off to a slow start as socio-cultural activist. He stayed away from any political-socio-cultural-economic issues, despite urgings from League of Fans and others to use his immense platform for good.

However, in recent years, he’s not only begun to regularly speak out on issues (see here too) but to take specific, measurable actions to benefit society, most notably the More Than a Vote initiative he has championed.

However, being an active voice for voting rights doesn’t put him at risk of losing his lucrative endorsement deal with Nike. Speaking out against China’s human rights abuses and Nike’s slave labor sweat shops in China is a different story.

Fellow NBA player Enes Kanter has called James out on social media, saying James was complicit in Nike’s activities in China by staying silent. He alleges it’s “money over morals” for James in this situation.

It seems to me that if you want to position yourself as a social justice warrior you can’t simply pick causes that are the most comfortable for you. Fighting voter suppression efforts in the United States is commendable. Avoiding the human rights abuses in China, and Nike’s slave labor abuses in China, in order to protect your lucrative endorsement deal isn’t. As Kanter suggests, true principles are greater than money.

In addition to claims that China has committed human rights violations against Muslims, Tibetans and other minorities, the Chinese government is facing heat from a variety of international sources regarding the strange three-week disappearance of professional female tennis player Peng Shuai, who accused a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee of sexual assault in a social media post.

Unlike James — or the NBA for that matter — the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is risking the loss of revenue from China by calling for a full, fair and transparent investigation of the Shuai situation “without censorship.” The WTA is threatening to pull its tennis tournaments from China if this investigation isn’t done.

Shuai appeared in a video call with Olympic officials earlier this week but the call left a lot of questions unanswered, especially regarding the status of her sexual assault allegations.

Basketball is a huge global sport and the NBA is very popular in China. James has more than 50 million Twitter followers. If he chose to truly put morals over money and live his stated social justice principles, he would come out and take a strong stand against Chinese human rights abuses, Nike’s slave labor sweat shops in China, as well as the NBA’s sidestepping on the Chinese human rights issue.

James has said he is a strong supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s commendable, as is all the positive work James has done in the areas of voting rights, education, racial equality, etc. But by remaining silent on China, he’s ignoring one of King’s most famous quotes:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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