Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is LeBron ready to step up on Darfur?

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2008 at 12:41 PM

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Ira Newble is in the news again, which is pretty novel for him. The former Cavs bench player-turned-Lakers bench player has been a leader among athletes concerned about the devastating situation in Darfur, which isn’t hard to do, considering that many had never heard of it before he started yapping about it. As you may remember, if only for the involvement of LeBron James, Newble tried last year to get his Cleveland teammates to sign a letter he was sending to the Chinese government. James was one of three players not to ink his name, and the only one who mattered. ... Most thought it was another case of a superstar baller taking his lead from Michael Jordan, the king of all things apolitical. And it may have been. But James seems to be a bit more willing to take a stand now that he’s had time to strategize – understandable, since his influence and opinion equals the decibel level of 10,000 Ira Newbles. In a recent Outside the Lines profile on ESPN, Newble again recounted his experiences in the Sudan. You can watch the program here. (Click on the “Athletes and Activism” link to the right). LeBron James also weighed in on the topic of Darfur, human rights, and the role of the athlete in speaking to these offenses. It’s hardly a topic that James could avoid as the Olympics loom, especially as the face of two of the largest, most profitable, and most widely recognized brands in the entire world: the NBA and Nike. As Shelly Smith points out in this profile of LeBron James’ views on Darfur (which also has a short video of LeBron’s interview on OTL and an extensive treatment of athletes who have spoken out before), the confluence of China/NBA/Nike/LeBron presents some murky waters of overlapping business/social/moral/professional/commercial interests that are sure to influence just how much the King is willing to say on the topic. Writes Smith:
“To be sure, China's record on human rights issues was, and remains, a sensitive topic, especially for James' employer, the NBA, which has had its eyes on China for more than 20 years. And then add the pressure of James' $90 million contract with Nike, which has its own designs on the vast Chinese market. James is so wildly popular there that he already has two China-only marketed shoes and his own museum in Shanghai, filled with artifacts from his life, including a copy of his birth certificate. And right now, China estimates it has 300 million basketball fans -- the same amount as the entire population in the United States.”
In the same article, Charles Barkley weighs in: “These guys got a great opportunity to learn. They should know about China and Darfur and the Sudan. Of course they should. But I'm pretty sure they got issues in Los Angeles. And I've been to Cleveland. LeBron's got his hands full with Cleveland.” Which, much like of what comes out of Barkley’s mouth, is pretty ignorant. Yeah, it can be a real shit-hole around here, Chuck, but genocide’s got us trumped, believe it or not. Plus, the problems of urban Anerica have plenty of voices fighting for them already ( whether anyone’s listening is another question). In the Sudan, however, athletes like LeBron have a unique opportunity to push the issue, especially as representatives of the NBA and Nike, and especially on a stage like the Olympics in China. The question is whether they think it’s merely an opportunity, or an obligation. – Vince the Polack

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