February 4, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

LeBron James demands double standards from Kyrie-Jerry Jones

Lebron James

LeBron James Screenshot: Spectrum Sportsnet

Whataboutism is a dangerous game. Comparing apples to oranges, as opposed to just honeycrisps and fujis, seems like the necessary linchpin to deflect attention from a real issue. Walking while chewing gum is possible, preferable, and has become an impressive skill in public. Was former NFL quarterback Brett Favre’s alleged involvement in Mississippi’s Social Fund diversion worth all the bad press he’s getting? Absolutely. (The former Green Bay Packers signal caller denied any wrongdoing.) And around the same time that new details about Favre’s alleged money scams for underprivileged families were revealed last month, Kyrie Irving posted a link to a documentary and book full of anti-Semitic tropes several of his social media accounts. The public spotlight will always be big enough for both men to bear the brunt of their heinous acts.

Measuring the severity and malignancy of inappropriate behavior, not to mention providing a well-researched context, are critical to making long-term judgments for any situation. Enter Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who wondered why no one in the media had asked him about a photo unearthed by the Washington Post last week. The image shows a segregationist mob attempting to prevent black students from entering a school in North Little Rock, Arkansas, with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the background. James questioned why the media was so quick to bombard him with questions about Irving’s glitches, but not Jones as it was right.

That’s the fallacious part of James’ claim on Wednesday night. It wasn’t directly about the photo, although Jones did confirm his appearance in the 1957 black-and-white stoppage to WaPo and spoke about it as part of his series on black coaches in the NFL and how with the on-record newspaper Those in Power haven’t done enough, to give them equal opportunities. It’s not even about the fact that Jones is the most well-known owner in the sport, and he’s never hired a black head coach. That’s a perfectly fair criticism, but one that’s far from exclusive to Jones.

Jones responded to James’ comments by praising the Laker forward’s history of speaking out.

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For years, James had to ask questions about so much outside of basketball because he’s arguably the biggest star in American sports who also happens to be black. He’s a living prodigy who is met with the highest expectations of any high school athlete of all time, where attaining legendary status was the only way not to be broke. And the Akron, Ohio native has surpassed that potential. Since a question about Jones never came up, it must have been more obvious to James than to the average person or media member. His problem wasn’t that he was being asked about Irving, who deserved Brooklyn’s suspension without pay because it took the Nets guard far too long to apologize for something so nasty and his negligence would only give credence to some of the worst of us . James recognized this and called it out. James, who turns 38 later this month, wanted to see that same energy as the central theme was the treatment of the black community and African Americans.

His appeal to the Los Angeles media and indeed to society at large was calm, composed, organized, diplomatic, rational and moving. It has exposed a double standard, and I’m not afraid to examine myself. It would be difficult for me to understand or recognize something that I have never experienced. I also need to have empathy and listen to the voices with that expertise in the situation, even when it’s uncomfortable. Was that the same reason why, despite clear messages from the Anti-Defamation League and other prominent voices in the Jewish community, it is troubling that many believe Irving did nothing wrong? Those affected by anti-Semitism knew the disgusting expressions and saw the disturbing signs. There was a clear refusal to normalize or accept hatred of the Jewish people as a whole.

Let’s use the same logic to approach James’ claim. When this photo surfaced of a then 14-year-old Jones, who has since aged to become the most powerful figure on the most popular team in America’s most popular sports, it didn’t garner nearly the same attention. The breadth of each in public had different components. Jones’ involvement in that crowd isn’t clear, but he’s there. We cannot assume he is innocent or guilty. Irving’s actions were crystal clear — he promoted an anti-Semitic project, didn’t understand why his actions hurt so many, and refused to apologize until his paycheck was taken from him. Everyone had to denounce the rude behavior and hope that one of the elite basketball players on the planet would learn from it. This process should have been the same if Tyler Herro was the culprit.

The darkness surrounding each event should not lead to uneven coverage. Irving deserved to be snubbed just as he deserved the right to go ahead and prove this was a one-off series of bad decisions. Jones has his feet on the fire too, but more importantly, it’s also paramount to heed James’ message not to discredit the black community’s shouts about their struggles. If you can see that, James’ comparison to Irving isn’t all that different. This may seem obvious, but it’s still worth noting that there’s never a wrong time to call out injustice. Jones opposed kneeling during the national anthem in 2017 and routinely came into play late when it came to social justice issues. His appearance in a photo from 65 years ago needs exactly this context, but should not be swept under the carpet. As it turns out, James’ question to us wasn’t whataboutism at all.