LeBron James said he will not join San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the way African-Americans are treated in this country and kneel during the national anthem during Cleveland Cavaliers games this season.
“Me standing for the national anthem is something I will do,” James said at the Cavs’ annual media day Monday. “That’s who I am. That’s what I believe in. But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and don’t believe in what Colin Kaepernick is doing. You have the right to voice your opinion, stand for your opinion, and he’s doing it in the most peaceful way I’ve ever seen someone do something.”
James has been outspoken about social issues facing the U.S. for the past several years and recognized the unrest that exists in a speech at the ESPYS this summer, alongside fellow NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. His message at the awards ceremony centered on community outreach. Kaepernick started his protest during the NFL preseason, approximately six weeks after the ESPYS speech.
James turned the issues inward Monday, sharing how recent events have shaped the way he views his family.
“For me, my personal feelings is that I got a 12-year-old son, a 9-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, and I look at my son being four years removed from driving his own car and being able to leave the house on his own, and it’s a scary thought right now to think if my son gets pulled over,” James said. “You tell your kids if you just apply [the lessons you teach them] and if you just listen to the police that they will be respectful and it will work itself out. And you see these videos that continue to come out, and it’s a scary-ass situation that if my son calls me and says that he’s been pulled over that I’m not that confident that things are going to go well and my son is going to return home. And my son just started the sixth grade.”
While James won’t be taking a knee like Kaepernick, he did speak out against the backlash the quarterback has received for his actions.
“What I do not like about the situation is the negative attention that has been thrown upon him by some people because it’s not deserved,” James said. “He was very educated, very smart, very candid and very demanding about what he wanted to do, and he didn’t ask anyone else to join him. And he did it in the most peaceful manner I’ve ever seen anyone stand up and do something. So I can respect that. And the things that I do personally, when I’m knowledgeable about it and I’m passionate about it, I’ll do that as well and let you guys know when those things are because I’ll tell you.”
James, the vice president of the players’ association, was asked about the joint memo that the National Basketball Players Association and the league issued to its players last week that sought to gather opinions on meaningful ways the two organizations can join together in response to the demonstrations by other pro athletes and create action. Michele Roberts, executive director of the players’ association, attended Cavs media day in person.
“The fact that the league has come out and said they’re going to continue to give back to the communities and hone in on what’s important, we feel like we did our job,” James said, alluding to his ESPYS speech. “We just wanted the conversation to continue to go, to understand that police brutality and killings and things of that nature of innocent people, it’s not the answer. You mourn the lives of so many innocent people and you pray for the families of so many innocent people over this course of time, in this short period of time. So you feel for that.”
James clarified that his stance was not aimed at police misconduct, but rather an admission that race relations must be improved in order for the country to thrive.
“We just wanted the conversation to continue to keep going, and I don’t have the answer,” James said. “None of us have the answer. But the more times that we can talk about it and the more times that we can [converse] about it [the better]. Because I’m not up here saying that all police are bad, because they’re not. I’m not up here saying all kids are great or all adults are great, because they’re not. But at the same time, all lives do matter. It’s not just black or white, it’s not that. It’s everyone. So it’s just tough being a parent right now when you have a preteen. But the conversation, it’s continued from the speech that myself, D-Wade, CP and Melo had, and that’s definitely a good thing.”
Cavs general manager David Griffin was also passionate about the subject, vowing to help be a conduit for his players to enact change.
“I think far too much is being made of what form of non-violent protest somebody chooses to implement and not nearly enough is being paid to the actual issues that spawn that outrage in the first place,” Griffin said. “I think this is a situation for us where non-violence and direct action, as Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] said, is supposed to engender a sense of moral shame. We should be ashamed of what’s going on in this country that prompted the initial protest in the first place. And I’m really, really honored to be a part of a league where [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver and Michele Roberts are working in conjunction with the players’ association to try to find a way to bring meaningful change and to impact the issue rather than talk about how one person chose to deal with their outrage over the issue.
“And we have players in that room that are really mature, veteran people that want to make an impact. So we’re all going to talk about the political correctness of what they do, I’d really like us to start talking about what’s going on and trying to reach the core of what’s going on. So, we will talk to our players as a team. I’m very confident that we’ll arrive at a place that’s pretty inspired because we got a group of guys that are really about the right things, and I think have a very real moral fiber, but I just don’t think this should be a topic that continues anymore. Let’s start talking about what we actually did about it.”