Inevitably, LeBron James will be asked about Donald Trump. Days after James helped open a public school in his hometown, Trump attacked his intelligence in a tweet that could charitably be described as seemingly racist. (It was racist.) LeBron, who memorably called Trump a “bum” in the past, has yet to comment on the matter. He’ll probably be forced to say something about it when he’s swarmed at Lakers’ media day next month. For now, James won’t be dragged down into an insulting conversation about his intelligence. He’s responding the best way possible—by letting his activism do the talking.
First things first, the Trump tweet truly deserves no response, from LeBron or anyone else. There’s no basis for Trump—someone who thought the WWE actually blew up Vince McMahon on live television—to call James (and Don Lemon) dumb. Even defenses of James’s intelligence, though well-intentioned, are unnecessary. There’s simply no need to dignify Trump’s opinion on James simply because he’s president. Trump has a history of questioning black people’s intelligence. He’s called peaceful protesters “sons of bitches.” Listing LeBron’s accomplishments in response to Trump adds a modicum of credibility to a completely worthless debate. James’s activism, and the tangible impact he’s making on his community, is much more worthy of any kind of discussion.
The NBA’s status as the “progressive” league can be a little misguided. After all, it’s still a league that restricts how much players can make but never its team owners. And though the nature of the sport gives players more power in the NBA than say, the NFL, their politics aren’t necessarily any different. NFLers such as Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick have been on the forefront of forcing discussions about police brutality and racial inequality, and are also active in their communities.
If there’s anything frustrating about the discourse around the NBA’s politics, it’s that they often seem to exist in a loop. Trump does something abhorrent. Steve Kerr or Gregg Popovich are outraged. They are praised widely for their words by the most visible portion of the media. And then the cycle repeats after the next incident. This isn’t a bad thing. Consistent outrage is good! Continuing to raise awareness about the hypocrisy of the NRA is good. Prominent white people thoughtfully discussing white privilege is good.
But for me, at least, in a political era in which kids are locked in cages and the president refers to overwhelming scientific evidence as a “hoax,” the most resonant responses to the current administration and cultural climate are actions, not words. Not every athlete or coach has accumulated the resources to help open a school. But whether it’s holding a town hall that lets minorities tell police about their experiences with law enforcement, or giving kids free lunch and free bikes, there are concrete ways for those with a platform to effect change, even if it starts at a smaller scale.
This isn’t to say athletes haven’t been doing these kinds of things for years. Or that it’s the responsibility of those in sports to make the world a better place. But for anyone looking for satisfaction in LeBron metaphorically dunking on Trump, his I Promise school will do a better job of that than anything he could tweet.
Athletes who have spoken out, whether it’s about Trump or police brutality, are still taking an important step. They are risking alienation (or in some cases, their careers) by using their platforms to bring awareness to important issues. And while the current administration’s policies, many rooted in xenophobia or marginalizing many for the benefit of the rich, athletes like LeBron, Kaepernick, or Carmelo Anthony are showing how to make real differences in the lives of individuals with disregard to political structures.
Everyone should still vote this November. Those with a platform should continue to raise an eyebrow (and their voice) to the inhumanity of Trump’s latest actions. Ideally, the outrage will pay off in the long run. For now, athletes like LeBron are providing immediate hope with their actions.