LeBron James always has been an advocate of athletes using their platforms to raise awareness on social issues, and the Lakers star did just that Wednesday night.
“I got one question for you guys before you guys leave,” James told reporters, as transcribed by Mark Medina of NBA.com. “I was thinking on my way over here. I was wondering why I haven’t gotten a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo. But when the Kyrie (Irving) thing was going on, you guys were quick to ask those questions about that. Hold on, hold. I don’t even want you guys to say nothing. When I watched Kyrie talk and he says, ‘I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things that we have been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America.
“I felt like as a Black man and a Black athlete and someone with power and a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage and it’s on the bottom ticker. I’m asked about it every single day. It seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation and photo, and I know it was years and years ago and we all make mistakes — I get it. But it seemed like it’s been buried under, like, ‘Oh, it happened. We just move on.’ I was disappointed I haven’t received that question from you guys. Appreciate it.”
Last Wednesday, David Maraniss and Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post published a feature on the Dallas Cowboys owner that pointed out how despite how much Jones has changed the NFL, the 80-year-old has yet to hire a Black head coach. The feature, as part of the publication’s “Black Out” series, revealed a photo of Jones standing in front of North Little Rock High among other white students to prevent six Black students attempting to desegregate the school.
The confrontation occurred 65 years ago, on Sept. 9, 1957, during the same month a more high-profile incident occurred at Little Rock Central High. President Dwight D. Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to escort Black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, past spitting hordes of people. The story is regarded as a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
“It overshadowed the ugly events unfolding contemporaneously at Jones’s high school on the other side of the Arkansas River — an episode mostly lost to history, though not entirely,” the Washington Post wrote.
Jones’ comments differ from what his high school head coach told the team. Jim Albright had warned there might be trouble and said he “didn?t want to see any of you knot-heads near the front of that school tomorrow.”
Jones told the Washington Post: “I don’t know that I or anybody anticipated or had a background of knowing … what was involved. It was more a curious thing.”
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith defended the Cowboys owner and was upset by the backlash Jones received since he was only 14 years old at the time of the photo.
On Nov. 5, Irving was suspended by the Brooklyn Nets after the 30-year-old refused to apologize for sharing a link to a documentary containing anti-Semitic tropes on social media. James, Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown and other NBA players believed the terms of the suspension to be excessive.
James grew in Akron, Ohio, but he identified as a Cowboys fan for much of his life. However, he revealed in October he had stopped supporting the team after Jones did not allow his players to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity for then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police brutality.