LeBron James found himself doing damage control Tuesday evening after comments he made in the trailer for an upcoming airing of The Shop were perceived by some as anti-American. In the 35-second clip for the fifth episode of Season 5, he is seen chatting with his pal Maverick Carter, English footballer Marcus Rashford, artist Rashid Johnson, and Daniel Kaluuya when the topic of Britney Griner’s imprisonment in Russia comes up.
The 4x NBA champ then wonders if the Phoenix Mercury center feels neglected by her country after how her situation’s been handled and if she should even consider returning stateside anymore. “Now, how can she feel like America has her back?” James says. “I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?’”
Social media was afire shortly afterward, with some people suggesting James was unpatriotic. Zachary Faria of the Washington Examiner said James “has never found an issue on which he wasn’t willing to share his misinformed, anti-American opinions.” Conservative political commentator and Trump supporter Nick Adams (née Adamopoulos) tweeted, “LeBron James should join Brittney Griner in her Russian jail cell.”
So he promptly tweeted a follow-up to the trailer, clarifying his comments. “My comments on ‘The Shop’ regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country,” James wrote Tuesday evening. “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.”
Many of James’ fans also took to social media to defend him as well, noting that it was a snippet of a larger conversation and that the NBA star was simply opining on what might be going through Griner’s mind right now. In fact, James promoted a Change.org petition pushing the White House to hasten Griner’s safe, swift return. “It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home,” he tweeted last week.
But though James has been quite vocal about his belief that there is more the U.S. government can do, some also believe the NBA megastar enjoys a certain male privilege which makes him feel safe compared to Griner, too.
Last Monday, Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard opened up about her All-Star center. She suggested the White House would be more aggressive with its efforts to bring Griner home were it a male basketball player detained in Russia instead.
“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?” Nygaard said. “It’s a statement about the value of women. 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.”
And sportswriter Tamryn Spruill — the first woman, Black woman, and gay woman to be the editor-in-chief of S.B. Nation’s Swish Appeal — made a very similar remark last month, too. “If this was an NBA [professional men’s league] player of her [caliber]… this would be on the cover of not only every sports page but every news media page in the world,” she told the BBC. “If she were Steph Curry or LeBron James, she wouldn’t be over there at all because she’d be making enough money.”
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