LeBron James wore a safety pin on the cover of Sports Illustrated – Yahoo Sports
This week’s Sports Illustrated features the announcement that LeBron James has been named the magazine’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2016. As you might expect, SI ace Lee Jenkins’ stellar feature on the reigning NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP and first player in NBA history to tally 27,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists got the cover:
If we’re being honest, the first thing I noticed in the shot was that turtleneck, which stands an estimated three apples high and covers nearly as much skin as the latter-days headbands LeBron wore before abandoning them in March of 2015. But other folks — like Tomás Ríos of Vocativ — found their eyes drawn to something else:
Computer, scan for ally credentials and enhance. pic.twitter.com/Z95etCT5K4
— TOMÁS RÍOS (@TheTomasRios) December 12, 2016
We don’t know for sure why James wore the safety pin on his lapel. It’s perhaps worth noting, though, that James’ seemingly ever-increasing willingness to weigh in on issues of social import in the United States played a major role in Sports Illustrated deciding to name him Sportsperson of the Year for the second time, and that this particular accessory has a very specific social and cultural connotation these days. From Brian Knowlton of Agence France-Presse:
In the days since [Donald] Trump’s election, people have begun placing a single pin on their shirts to convey a message of support — of safety, and protection — to minorities, women, immigrants and others who may feel threatened by the strident rhetoric that carried the Republican billionaire to the White House.
The safety pin social media movement gained prominence in Britain on Twitter as a sign of solidarity with immigrant and minority populations facing a reported surge in hate crimes after the Brexit vote in June, with its strong anti-immigrant undertones.
Since the U.S. election, the phenomenon has started catching on across the Atlantic, with celebrities including actress Debra Messing as well as ordinary people posting images of their safety pins on social media.
On the Sunday after the election, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith showed up to his postgame press conference wearing a small silver safety pin on his shirt. He later acknowledged that he intended the pin as a statement of solidarity, though he stopped short of any bombastic rhetoric, according to Dave Skretta of The Associated Press:
“It’s funny,” Smith said Wednesday, “I didn’t even think it got noticed at the time.” […]
“I’ll tell you what it wasn’t: It wasn’t anything political. Nothing to do with the presidential election. For me, just everything to do with tolerance, understanding,” Smith explained before heading out to practice.
“Something I found out about at my kids’ school where they were teaching about diversity and tolerance, and I don’t know why. Just felt like it was pertinent at the time.”
James, you’ll recall, publicly endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He also stumped for Clinton in Ohio, citing her interest in rebuilding America’s public school system, making college affordable for all, and addressing violence that disproportionately befalls the African-American community — priorities that all fall in line with the priorities of his LeBron James Family Foundation, which will provide four-year scholarships to the University of Akron for qualifying students in the foundation’s “I Promise” program.
After Trump’s victory, James urged patience and optimism among young fans concerned about the Republican nominee’s stances and policy proposals. Last week, when the Cavs visited Manhattan to take on the New York Knicks, James and several teammates were “excused from staying” at the Trump SoHo with the rest of the squad. While James told reporters it was the first time in his career he hadn’t stayed in the team hotel on the road, he insisted that it was a matter of personal preference rather than an attempt to make a statement about the president-elect, according to Brian Mahoney of the AP:
“It would be the same if I went to a restaurant and decided to eat chicken and not steak,” James said. […]
“At the end of the day I hope he’s one of the best presidents ever, for all of our sake,” James said. “For my family, for all us.”
That said, James did make a statement on Trump in the course of his interview with Jenkins for the SI cover story:
Two days later, James and his wife [Savannah] stayed up until 4 a.m., watching the state and the country choose Donald Trump. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have my father, so you looked up to people in positions of power,” James says. “It could be athletes or actors or leaders, like presidents. I think parents could use some of those people as role models. But when we elect a president who speaks in a disrespectful way a lot, I don’t know that we can use him in our household.” The next morning, James and Savannah ate breakfast, before the Cavaliers flew to D.C. for their championship ceremony with President Barack Obama. “I think we’re going to have to do more,” he told his wife. “I think we’re going to have to step it up more.” […]
“I understand protests, but I think protests can feel almost riotous sometimes, and I don’t want that,” James says. “I want it to be more about what I can do to help my community, what we can do so kids feel like they’re important to the growth of America, and not like: ‘These people don’t care about us.’ I’m not here to stomp on Trump. We’re here to do our part, which starts in the place we grew up, street by street, brick by brick, person by person.”
Not everybody believes the safety pin to be a truly effective symbol of solidarity. Fusion’s Tahirah Hairston last month called prospective allies donning safety pins “a gesture with good intentions” but “ultimately a bystander form of activism entirely on white people’s terms,” a trendy choice with “no binding commitment” for future action to help marginalized people feel and (actually be) safer.
Interestingly enough, in that same piece, Hairston quotes a source who name-checks James and his fellow NBA players for providing an example of aesthetic intention that can make a powerful statement:
Derica Cole Washington, a costume designer, says the most recent moment of effective fashion activism was in 2014 when Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and other black NBA players wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts after the jury decided against indicting the police officers who killed Eric Garner.
“That was a huge moment for them to actually wear those shirts,” she says. “[The] NBA is made up of mostly black men so for them to really come together that was a specific statement…the big thing is it created a different wave of conversation.”
James will accept his award at a gala event on Monday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn before heading back to Ohio, where the Cavs will take on the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.
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