This man is not an evil genius nor a role model. He's a basketball player. A really, really good one.
A controversy exploded last week as Lebron James was asked if he thought that race was a factor in the negative press he has been facing since he announced his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami during his free agency. If you've been living in a cave and are unaware, Lebron announced that he would be going to the Heat in a bloated self-important ridiculous television event on ESPN that many claim is the reason that overnight he has gone from being one of the most popular American athletes to one of the most reviled.
This latest flare-up of Lebron hate is due to him replying to a question about whether or not race is a factor in the recent hate. It was a brief and seemingly innocent answer to a question, but by talk-radio idiots blaring about how ridiculous he is, you'd think he was clamoring for white folks to submit to 100 years of slavery to African-Americans as reparations for pre-Abolition times. (He's not saying that, by the way, Let's make that clear so he doesn't get into even more trouble.)
The thing is, Lebron was asked if race was a factor, and he said it was. He didn't claim it was the whole reason, he said it was a factor and he said it after about a half second of deliberation. He probably gave more thought on what to have for breakfast this morning than he did when answering that question. He didn't know what kind of effect that would have on the hyperactive sports media, and he probably didn't care. Basically, Lebron barely said anything, and somehow it has turned into "He is using it as an excuse for his actions."
People claim that Lebron has a higher calling as a role model to children. Ever since Charles Barkley had the, "I am not a role model" commerials it has been kind of cliche to say athletes aren't role models, but it's true now just as it was true then. In fact, Charles' take on the situation in that commercial is what I believe right now...
As much grief as he has gotten for it, I don't think Lebron regrets "The Decision." As difficult as it is for the majority of us to believe, I think he actually STILL thinks it was mostly a good way to handle this. No one in his inner circle has been fired as a result of this PR nightmare, and he is where he wants to be surrounded by yes men who filter all the negative crap out of his life anyway. You think any of his boys are busting his balls for "The Decision"? I doubt they are in any substantive way.
He probably sees this tempest in which we have turned a free agency decision into World War III as our problem, not his. And you know what? He's probably right. It is just sports, after all, not a morality play. We take these fun and games WAY too seriously in 2010.
As to the race issue...race probably is a factor. It's not the only factor to be sure, but race is in there to be sure. Why shouldn't he say it?
People worry about the kids who take every syllable Lebron utters as gospel. They say that Lebron stating that race is a factor creates a go to excuse for youth to lean on in the future. Ridiculous, I say. If kids are taking him this way, and despite how hard I might wish that they are not, I'm not so naive to think that they aren't; then shame on their parents for not teaching them that sports is nothing more than entertainment.
Lebron is a basketball player, not someone we should model our lives after. Maybe that is simple-minded and delusional, but I also honestly believe it. It's okay to look to Lebron as a guy to model your crossover on, but it's beyond ridiculous to look to him as someone to base your life decisions on. Kids need to learn that. Let Lebron speak the truth, and if you don't like it, maybe it's more your issue than his.
Lebron is an immature man-boy who makes tons of terrible decisions, but he also happens to be an immensely talented basketball player. That is what he is. He doesn't have the education, perspective or experience to speak into sociological issues with any real substance. Why are we treating his opinion with such gravity? He's entitled to his opinion, but that doesn't mean we have to treat it like it came from the leader of the free world. He seems like a pretty smart kid who grew up too fast and needs to grow up quite a bit more. I worry for him, though as he is so isolated by his fame and money that you wonder if it'll ever happen. I hope it does.
So in the light of all this anti-James and anti-Miami Heat sentiment that have been raging even since "The Decision", I wish Lebron well. Even as I shake my head at some of his youthful indiscretions that are magnified by a factor of a million due to his basketball skills, I want the best for him. I'm glad I wasn't under such a microscope when I was his age, I'm sure I'd have made a ton of stupid decisions too.
This recent "controversy" over what he said about race is overblown ESPN manufactured pablum. He's a player for the Heat, not a Messiah. Let's remember what the difference is.
I love sports, but worshiping athletes is terrible for both us and them. Let's let the players be young men with a great opportunity and not foist illusions of grandeur upon them that they are not ready to handle. Remember that they are basically just very determined men who have focused their talents and parlayed them into a tremendous and lucrative opportunity. If we remember that definition as the sum of what it is to be a professional athlete It'll be better for the athletes, and it'll be better for us as a society.