The first step is always the hardest because people hate admitting their faults, especially in a place like America where denial is a part of this country’s DNA.
Some recent comments from LeBron James have caused quite a stir across the country — and in New England — as he shared his thoughts on what Brittney Griner might be thinking as she’s still detained in Russia, and how he feels about fans in Boston on the latest episode of The Shop.
“I was trying to imagine it and it’s hard for me to even put myself into what she’s going through. Like she’s such a great human being. A great person. Obviously, I’ve been in her presence a few times. You always feel like, you know, if you’re from a certain place, you always feel like they’ve got your back. And, in a sense, now, how could she feel like America has her back? I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?’ If I’ve been gone for over 130 days. And I felt like it’s been zero effort.”
On Boston (Celtics) fans when asked, “Why do you hate Boston?”:
“Because they racist as f*ck, that’s why. They will say anything, and it’s fine. I mean, f*ck, it’s my wife, she’s been dealing with them her whole life. I don’t mind it. I hear it, if I hear someone close by, I check them real quick. I move onto the game, whatever the f*ck. They going to say whatever the f*ck they want to say. They might throw something, I got a beer thrown on me leaving a game.”
Let’s talk about the Brittney Griner thing first, as it led some to feel that the comment may have come off as “un-American.”
“My comments on ‘The Shop’ regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country,” James wrote on social media as the clip gained attention. “I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she’s been in for over 100+ days! Long story short #BringHerHome.” Funny enough, it was Griner’s own coach with the Phoenix Mercury who recently asked, “If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?”
“It’s a statement about the value of women,” said Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard about Griner’s situation. “It’s a statement about the value of a Black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.”
What’s at the heart of Griner’s situation is that she is a living and breathing representation of everything this country hates — a triple minority (Black, female, and gay) that White America has never gone the extra mile to protect, let alone appreciate or value. And so when somebody like James ponders about what she may be thinking as she sits in a Russian jail, of course, some will deem it unpatriotic as if this country has ever given African-Americans a reason to be proud of this place, let alone the sense of feeling welcomed.
Now on to Boston…
In the summer of 2014, I made a trip to Beantown. It was the first time I’d been there since a few visits to see family when I was a kid. It’s funny the things that you pick up on when you’re an adult compared to a child. During my visit, we walked around Fenway Park on game day. And this was years before fans would hang a sign that read “Racism is as American as baseball,” or before the Red Sox needed it to be the year 2020 before they could admit that a lot of racist things happen to Black players and people at their historic stadium, and prior to Celtics star Marcus Smart going public about an incident he had with a racist fan outside of TD Garden.
Despite being the place that gave us New Edition and Donna Summer, or the Black population and neighborhoods it features — outside of that, Boston is reminiscent of places like Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. There’s always a feeling in the air that you’re not wanted there, and the reaction that often takes place anytime someone holds a mirror up to that city is proof that our feelings have always been facts.
The message is always as important as the messenger, and vice versa. And in the case of LeBron James — a Black man that has felt the hate from Boston fans for decades, owns a piece of the Red Sox, and knows what it likes to be treated like a second-class citizen at times in your own country, even when you’ve won gold medals for them — he’s a perfect combination of the two. And if you disagree with his takes on Brittney Griner and Boston it’s because you still refuse to take that first step — which is admitting that in this country, Black lives have never mattered as much as white ones.