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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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