On Thursday, LeBron James sent five tweets in response to a video of a purported Celtics fan burning an Isaiah Thomas jersey. (Thomas, if you somehow missed it, was traded to the Cavaliers on Tuesday.) James harshly criticized the behavior, rightfully pointing out the reasons why Thomas deserves only respect for his tenure in Boston, and how Thomas didn’t leave the team on his own accord. It makes sense for James to be particularly troubled by the jersey burning, with the act seemingly entering the public consciousness for the first time when James left Cleveland in 2010.
While James’s tweets are coming from a good place, I’m also not sure if they are completely necessary. There was serious vitriol against James in 2010 after The Decision, scars for James that only he gets to decide when they heal. But most of all recent jersey burnings ring extremely hollow.
It happens to every player. Dwyane Wade. Gordon Hayward. Isaiah Thomas. What’s the common thread in these jersey burnings? They are breathlessly covered by the media—Sports Illustrated included. But these jersey burnings are more of an internet meme than anything else. Does it really seem believable to you, because one or two or 15 idiots burned a jersey, that behavior is indicative of the entire fan base, as this one tweet would suggest?
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point. A player leaves a team through trade or free agency. A bunch of sportswriters will quickly say something earnest like, “I hope no one burns [blank’s] jersey after all he did for the team.” And then, inevitably, a few idiots will do just that, and every outlet will run with the video bemoaning how this is happening all over again.
That response needs to stop. Burning jerseys is a f------ meme. It’s Crying Jordan. It’s stupid people looking for their 15 seconds of fame on the Internet. It’s an uncreative, overplayed Internet construction that’s representative of nothing. (Seriously, this Celtics fan roasted his Thomas jersey in a fireplace! It’s a completely rote act.)
Jersey burners are simply looking for attention. I’m very glad LeBron James is comfortable speaking his mind on a number of issues. The way certain fans view athletes is absolutely problematic. And—let me stress this—we can (most likely) never know what it’s like to watch someone burn something with our name on it. But when a couple morons burn an Isaiah Thomas jersey to copy something they saw on the Internet last summer, it should actually be beneath James to respond.
We’re not going to solve the societal issues about the way fans view athletes in this blog. There are plenty of people who view players like James as nothing more than objects of entertainment, or nothing close to human. There are also plenty of fans who understand the ins and outs of the salary cap and have calculated Cleveland’s luxury tax payments to the last cent. I would truly venture to guess most fans in Boston right now understand Thomas didn’t ask to leave the Celtics and don’t hold him accountable for what happened.
So leave the jersey burners in their sad little corner of the Internet. All the hand-wringing over each half-assed video only serves to create a new round of jersey burners when someone leaves their team the next summer.
Again, it’s extremely understandable why LeBron would be particularly offended over a jersey burning, as it was one of the many ways Cleveland manifested its hate for him after The Decision. But there’s no excuse for the rest of sports media to give those idiots the attention they so desperately crave every time someone switches teams.
The act is meaningless. It’s not the same symbol of hate it was seven years ago. If people want to set hundreds of dollars on fire because of something they saw on Twitter, so be it. For now, it’s no longer worth spending any amount of time on.