LeBron James, “the decision,” and race

Comments made by LeBron James several days ago are drawing attention. James suggested in an interview with CNN that race played a role in people’s reaction to his choice to play with the Miami Heat. A commentator at Salon suggests that James is just stating the obvious:

Now, the Aggrieved White Guy funnels rage to the comment boards, as LeBron is shredded for this latest transgression of truth. While many pundits white and black want to pretend that ego alone stoked this bubbling hate cauldron, Henry Abbott, who presides over ESPN’s network of NBA blogs, noticed a unique phenomenon:

“It is literally the strangest thing I have ever seen NBA fans do. If you look at most NBA stories online, there will be some comments on each that are either racist, coded racism, or in line with racist thinking. On the night of LeBron’s decision, those kinds of hateful comments — whether hateful or not — became the dominant narrative, which blew my mind.”

Fans were uniquely angry at James for showing up a mostly white NBA power structure. His race played a role, how could it not? And if you’re still mad at LeBron, if you’re screaming at him for pointing this out, I don’t think his “ego” is what irks you.

It will be interesting to see how this continues to play out. The Q ratings demonstrated that blacks and whites have different opinions about James.

Several things to note about this argument in Salon: it is partly based on evidence from Internet message boards (where people seem willing to say all sorts of things they wouldn’t say in-person) and it provides a typical defense of “the Aggrieved White Guy” who claims he didn’t bring up race at all. On the whole, such discussions need to acknowledge the larger issue: we live in a racialized society where both overt and covert racism take place and have large social consequences.