James draws criticism for stand on Darfur issue

By PA SportsTicker

LeBron James must have given hundreds, if not thousands of autographs in his three years of NBA stardom.

It took just one polite “no” to a different kind of autograph request recently for the 22-year-old forward to stir up a hornets’ nest.

James was asked to sign an open letter, written by Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Ira Newble, condemning China’s government for contributing to the genocide of people in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“China cannot be a legitimate host to the premier international event in the sporting world - the Summer Olympic Games - while it remains complicit in the terrible suffering and destruction that continues to this day,” Newble wrote.

China is thought to buy a huge amount of Sudanese oil. The African country is then said to spend much of that oil money on obtaining weapons and technology from China.

Sudan is also accused of arming the Arab militia, the Janjaweed, who in turn use the weapons to murder innocent people in the Darfur region.

Newble’s letter was signed by most of the Cavalier players, but not James, who said he didn’t have enough information about the issue, or Damon Jones, who refused comment.

James has a huge contract with Nike, a company that has business interests in China, while Jones is to endorse products from a Chinese shoe and apparel company.

As James is one of the best players in the NBA, and a captain of Team USA who is likely to run onto the court in Beijing when the Americans attempt to regain the Olympic gold medal, it is not surprising his decision has led to a lively debate.

A political activist website, thinkprogress.org, wrote about James’ decision not to sign and that led to varied comments posted on the website.

A person calling himself ‘Badmoodman’, wrote: “James has a $90 million deal with Nike, which has huge business interests in China. The Darfur issue passed by LeBron with a big SWOOSH.”

There was a more sympathic view of James offered by someone calling himself Chris, who said: 1) LeBron James is a basketball player, not a policy-maker. He’s 22 years old, still a kid. 2) Signing a piece of paper that says “I will not be a witness” saves how many lives?

Then someone who called himself Shane posted this: “Americans can’t be bothered standing up for their country, their soldiers or the constitution. Why would we expect some athlete, no doubt with a neocon agent and manager telling him what to do, to stand up for people with no money who will never buy the shoes he hawks.”

Former United State Senator and New York Knicks star Bill Bradley did not mention LeBron James by name, but also spoke about the issue in a story published on www.bloomberg.com.

“You have to decide what it is you want to use your celebrity for,” Bradley said. “It’s conceivable that some people will choose to never do it, in which case it’s unfortunate. There are bigger lives that can be led.”

As is the case with most star athletes these days, they should be admired for their actions on the court, not off it.

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Updated Monday, May 28, 2007