MORE THAN AN ATHLETE

The power of ‘The Chosen One’

LeBron James has led the change for social justice from the court to the community.

By JOSHUA SACHER

As I mentioned in the first installment of this column, there would be a time when I mentioned the activism of contemporary athletes, but first, I needed to highlight the sacrifices and impact of the trailblazing activists, including Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and Billie Jean King. However, the time has come to talk about the athletes spearheading the social justice movement today. 

LeBron James has been defying the odds and fighting for social justice his whole life. Raised in a low-income household in Akron, Ohio, by his teenage mother Gloria, James had to navigate life with a lack of money and no father figure. James’ father allegedly left the family after spending time in jail, and the basketball player’s financial situation at home even forced him to live with foster parents once.


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James’ natural speed, power and size all contributed to his incredible basketball skill at a young age. By the time he was 17, he appeared alongside a headline — “THE CHOSEN ONE” — on the cover of Sports Illustrated in February 2002.

Fast forward 22 years, James has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers and is viewed as arguably the greatest basketball player ever. On the court, the 39-year-old is a four-time NBA MVP, four-time NBA Finals MVP, 19-time All-NBA, the all-time leading scorer in NBA history and a whole lot more.

But James is “The Chosen One” off the court, too. Just like the name of this column and his TV series — which talks about his improbable journey on and off the court — James is More Than An Athlete.

Throughout his career, James has been actively involved in striving for equality. In addition to using his platform to succeed in basketball, he has addressed several social concerns, including voting rights, education and racial injustice. 

The Akron native started his foundation — the LeBron James Family Foundation — in 2004 with the goal of improving children’s and families’ lives through a variety of programs. The I PROMISE School in James’ hometown is one of the foundation’s main initiatives, providing at-risk adolescents services and educational support. The school provides free tuition, busing, meals, uniforms, bikes, helmets and benefits for parents, like GED classes and job placements.

James has also been outspoken in his criticism of racial injustice. He has frequently voiced his opposition to police brutality, especially in the wake of high-profile cases like the deaths of George Floyd, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin. James has worn an “I CAN’T BREATHE” — Garner and Floyd’s final words before being killed by policemen — T-shirt several times during warm-ups to push for justice and increased awareness.

The Lakers star has also been involved in politics, especially supporting voter participation and opposing voter suppression. He established the nonprofit organization “More Than A Vote” to reduce voting suppression and boost turnout, especially in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The organization is responsible for registering over 40,000 poll workers around the country and organizing the distribution of 1.3 million letters — each signed by James — to prospective voters in collaboration with the Legal Defense Fund.

Within the NBA, James has been a strong advocate for social justice efforts. He has pushed for reform inside the league by using news conferences, social media and other platforms to bring attention to significant social concerns. 

As mentioned in a previous installment of this column, he was told to “shut up and dribble” by journalist Laura Ingraham. 

“The best thing she did was help me create more awareness,” James said at the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend news conference. “I get to sit up here and talk about social injustice … We will definitely not shut up and dribble.”

James’ basketball greatness often gets taken for granted. His social activism gets denounced because he is a professional basketball player when, in reality, he has continuously addressed social concerns, created positive change and strengthened underserved areas by using his position and resources. 

We must not take him for granted.

Joshua Sacher is a sophomore writing about athletes who led the change for social justice in his column, “More Than An Athlete,” which runs every other Thursday. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan.

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