“Shut up and dribble.”
That’s what Laura Ingraham, Fox News talking head and dutiful MAGA mouthpiece, said in 2018 when she took to the air to whining about NBA superstar LeBron James† To criticize Donald Trump for his lack of leadership and countless bigoted comments. “It’s always unwise to take political advice from someone who gets $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” she said. “Keep the political comments to yourself.”
Of course, like much of Ingraham’s deliberately incendiary, substance-free rhetoric, that statement is nonsense — not to mention disrespectful and slyly racist. I strongly believe that anyone who has a platform as prominent and broad as James (a group that includes not only athletes, but also actors, musicians and other celebrities) should speak out as much as possible on issues that affect them. In honor of athletes using their platforms to advance the cause of social justice, here are two books from January that are worth checking out.
1The first is NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s Watch My Smoke: The Eric Dickerson Story (Hay market, January 22). Dickerson has always been one of the most outspoken critics of the NFL and its treatment of players, especially black players. As our reviewer notes, “he once told a” Illustrated Sports writer that “football isn’t a game, it’s a business” – a business that typically pays black players less than white players, so that when he demanded $1.4 million a season in the mid-1980s, the Rams counter-offer was $200,000 , “who wasn’t even in the top 15 among running backs.” No wonder Dickerson’s pages are laced with bile—and rightly so, though it’s gratifying that he’s channeled his anger into philanthropic efforts to provide tutoring and financial support to low-income children hoping to attend college.” Dickerson was one of the Most Exciting Players in NFL Historybut my respect for the man is rooted in his refusal to remain silent in the face of injustice.
That courage shines through in another worthy book: Etan Thomas’ Police brutality and white supremacy: the struggle against American traditions (Edge of Sports/Akasha, January 11). Thomas was no LeBron, but he had an admirably successful career in the NBA from 2000 to 2011 before moving on to more important cases. Since his retirement, he has devoted himself to activism, especially the two songs that form the title of his latest book. The book features eye-opening interviews with an impressive list of contributors from different backgrounds. Among them are Steph Curry, Mark Cuban, Rex Chapman, Marc Lamont Hill, Breanna Stewart, Chuck D, Jake Tapper and Jemele Hill, who hits the nail on the head when it comes to societal norms in this country: “For black people in general in any profession, but especially in prominent roles, we have to be perfect. Not just perfect, we have to be exceptional. We must become stars.”
In 11 thematic chapters – e.g. “Defunding the Police”, “Black Women and the Police”, “White Privilege”, “White Allies/Accomplices” – the contributors all speak in profound ways about Thomas’ vision for the book: “I. .. imagine this book is a history lesson about white supremacy, its origin and its promotion, both past and present, and furthermore I want to emphasize the importance of white alliance in eradicating white supremacy and racism, not just in words but in deeds. It’s not a matter of guilt or white guilt, it’s a matter of changing what has historically been woven into the fabric of American society.” Packed with important lessons, the text is a perfect follow-up to the author’s previous book, We Matter: Athletes and Activism (2018).
Eric Liebetrau is the non-fiction and editor-in-chief†