Not sure why LeBron James bothered speaking the truth about Jerry Jones and that picture from 1957, which is less a story about Jerry and ’57, and more a story about you and me and right now. Not sure why he bothered, even if he is – sorry, even though he is – correct. Who’s listening to an NBA player, even one as smart and insightful as LeBron, on this topic?
Not the people he'd like to listen. Could that be you? Only you know that.
We loved it when LeBron dunked on Kyrie Irving though, didn’t we? Kyrie screwed up by promoting on his Twitter account a movie based on blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric, and LeBron came out and said what we were all thinking: There’s no place for hate. That was a message that almost everyone could get behind, white and Black, for reasons I shouldn’t have to spell out … but will:
One part of the population is tired of the ugliness in our midst, and appreciates when someone as empathetic and influential as LeBron James speaks his truth. Another part of the population really enjoyed the Black-on-Black criticism, because it allowed that segment to pile onto Kyrie and feel safe.
You knew which websites and TV networks and social media accounts, even which local radio blabbers, would come down hard on LeBron. You also knew who would hear LeBron and think: Damn, he makes a good point.
Did you just know I’d be on LeBron’s side? Hey, great. Anybody would like to leave a legacy, right? If my attitude in these pages since 2014 has been so obvious – if my legacy is one of being consistently, repeatedly, dependably open to the idea that we should treat all people equally – well, thank you. Consider my day made.
What’s your legacy?
Jerry Jones and the segregationist mob
The picture shows what it shows. The integration of a school in North Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Black students entering the building. White students hating them for it.
In the picture in question, which surfaced during a series of NFL owner profiles reported last week by the Washington Post, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is 14. It’s 1957, remember, and six Black students are trying to enter North Little Rock High. They are encountered by a mob of white students blocking their way.
Is every student in that mob guilty of defending segregation, of trying to prevent the Black students from entering the building? No, of course not. Students were at the school that morning to, you know, go to school. Some saw the hubbub, including TV cameras, and came closer for a look.
Not everyone is guilty.
Not everyone is innocent.
Which is Jerry Jones? Impossible to say. He’s in the picture, several rows back. He’s a sophomore. There’s a look on his face, but it’s impossible to decipher. It could be the start of something pleasant, a welcoming signal to the Black students. It could be the start of something uglier, something supportive of the mob.
Does Jones' presence make him demonstrably guilty? Nope. Does his explanation, 65 years later – that he was just there out of “curiosity” – make him demonstrably innocent? Nope.
LeBron didn’t exactly crush Jones’ appearance in that photo. Didn’t excuse it, either. What he said, exactly, was this:
“It seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, photo — and I know it was years and years ago and we all make mistakes, I get it — but it seems like it's just been buried under, like, 'Oh, it happened. OK, we just move on.' And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven't received that question from you guys."
LeBron sounds inclined to believe Jones was part of the wrong group, the segregationist mob – not merely “curious” – and Jones has given reason to believe that. He was one of the hardline owners coming out against players kneeling for the national anthem in 2017. That stance caused LeBron, a known Cowboys fan, to quit rooting for the team.
As for kneeling and the anthem, I’m not here to relitigate that whole thing. You stand where you stand, wherever that is. I stand where I stand, which is to say: consistently, repeatedly, dependably open to the idea that we should treat all people equally.
LeBron wasn’t really talking about Jerry Jones when he raised the issue on Wednesday night, though. He was using that picture – our reaction to it – as a lens into America's soul. It was brilliant, and made me rethink my own behavior in recent weeks.
But then, I’m always inclined to listen to someone like LeBron. Other people? They’re not as inclined.
Shut up and dribble, all that.
LeBron James on response to Kyrie Irving tweet, Jerry Jones photo
Truth? I don’t like what LeBron’s comments – and what my reaction to the Kyrie Irving and Jerry Jones situations – say about me.
When Kyrie retweeted a promotional image of an anti-Semitic movie, I was horrified. This was a month ago, and as it happened, the Pacers were in Brooklyn to play Irving’s Nets. The Pacers, owned by Herb Simon, who is Jewish, defeated the Nets. I wrote about it gleefully, saying the Pacers were doing “the Lord’s work” and dunked hard on Kyrie, because it was just so easy.
“An idiot,” I called him.
To be clear: I'm not sorry.
In my defense, I didn’t go find anti-Kyrie quotes from Black athletes to hide behind, as if to suggest: Hey, I can dunk on Kyrie too! A few days later, LeBron himself would say this about Kyrie’s promotional tweet and ensuing inability to distance himself from anti-Semitism:
“It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, how tall you are, what position you’re in – if you are promoting or soliciting, or saying harmful things to any community that harm people, then I don’t respect it. I don’t condone it.”
See, LeBron said!
Four weeks later, when the Post unearthed that 1957 photo of Jerry Jones, I didn’t write a story. Our NFL team, the Colts, are playing Jones' Cowboys this weekend – similar to the timing of the Pacers and that Kyrie retweet – but it didn’t even occur to me to write something like: The Colts, by beating Jones’ Cowboys, would be doing “the Lord’s work” because Jerry Jones is “an idiot.”
Didn’t even occur to me.
Now, in my defense – and how ridiculous am I, defending myself over and over? – I’m not sure of Jones’ intent in that 1957 photo. I don’t know that he was there as part of the mob. Do I think it? Yeah, I do. But do I know it? Nope. So I sat that one out.
LeBron raised the issue, though, brilliantly: Why, he wants to know, is nobody asking the Black community – why is nobody asking him – about a 1957 picture featuring segregation, racism and the most famous owner in U.S. professional sports? People couldn’t wait to ask him about Kyrie, because we knew LeBron would give us what we wanted: an intelligent (Black) attack on Kyrie. For some of us, that meant justice. For others, it provided cover.
Here’s what LeBron said, unasked, obviously, on Wednesday night:
"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 us questions about that…
"When I watch 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've been through,' and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, as 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, it's on the bottom ticker. It's asked about every single day.
"But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, photo — and I know it was years and years ago and we all make mistakes, I get it — but it seems like it's just been buried under, like, 'Oh, it happened. OK, we just move on.' And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven't received that question from you guys."
As a member of the media, I’m kind of disappointed in all those reporters, too. As someone who dunked on that Kyrie retweet but didn’t think too much about that 1957 picture of Jerry Jones, I’m absolutely disappointed in myself. This is called introspection. It can be uncomfortable.
But it requires listening. Also uncomfortable.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: LeBron James' uncomfortable question about Jerry Jones, Kyrie Irving