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 #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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