Point of View Columns

C’mon Jesse!

I begin by acknowledging the historical bona fides of Jesse Jackson. As a lieutenant of Martin Luther King, Jr., as the founder of Rainbow Push, as a presidential candidate – his place in history is secure and undeniable. This is a man worthy of respect despite his occasional human missteps.

Which makes me wonder why oh why would Jesse Jackson inject himself into the Lebronidiculous spectacle that culminated in LeBron James making his professional career decision to move from Cleveland to Miami into a national circus? When superstar athletes leave their “home” team, the locals rarely react positively. Ask Alex Rodriguez who is still reviled in Seattle although he left there almost a decade ago. And Seattle wasn’t his “home” – he is from Florida.

As Brett Favre how it goes when he visits Green Bay having been a Packer demigod and “hometown” hero for over a decade. When he comes to Green Bay wearing the hated colors of the Minnesota Vikings he is burned in effigy and cursed. And he isn’t even from Wisconsin – Brett Favre was born and lives in Mississippi.

So when LeBron James, who is from Akron, less than a half tank in an Escalade away from Cleveland, why should it be surprising that everyone in Ohio, even the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, would go nuts. There are Cleveland fans who have been fantasizing about LeBron James being a Cavalier since he was 13 years old, so listening to him describe his departure in the third person on ESPN (in Greenwich, Connecticut) had to sting.

Now Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, went over the top when he reduced the price of LeBron James jerseys to $17.41 (1741 being the year of Benedict Arnold’s birth), but I did not pick up a whiff of racism that Reverend Jackson claims permeated every word that Gilbert spoke. Saying that LeBron James was being treated “like a runaway slave” and playing the slavery card is in incredible bad taste for any number of reasons.

First, slavery was a tragedy shared by all Americans of African descent and we do dishonor to the memory and suffering of voiceless ancestors by trivializing that tragedy. LeBron James has made hundreds of millions of dollars as a professional athlete and will make billiions before his career is over. It is hard to make a case for him being a slave, “runaway” or otherwise.

Additionally, Jesse Jackson acts as if there is some racial teflon attached to blackness which should insulate LeBron James from criticism. James has made a very comfortable living being a superstar. Superstars receive adulation and praise from the same people who will curse and revile them when they feel rejected or disappointed. Just ask Tiger Woods.

LeBron James might have considered a less ego-driven public presentation of his departure. Considering his ringless fingers and his swan dive in the most recent playoffs, some humility might have been in order. As a professional, he might have wanted to call the owner of the team that had paid him tens of millions of dollars and catered to his every whim a heads up by phone before his ESPN closeup. But those were James’ decisions and he has to live with the consequences…..somehow I think that he will survive the current opprobrium and live quite nicely in South Beach.

So you can support LeBron James or not. But please, please, let Lebronomania not be the battlefield. There are so many worthwhile battles to be fought.