You can be LeBron James. You can be an all-time great at your profession, and a man idolized by millions. You can be a role model and a gentlemen and a champion and a millionaire many, many times over.
But you’re still a black man in America, and that can be tough.
This was illustrated to grotesque effect on Wednesday. A day before James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were set to take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, a racial slur was spray-painted on house James owns in Los Angeles.
Addressing reporters Wednesday afternoon, James appeared somber and clearly affected by the incident police were reportedly investigating as a hate crime. But he also addressed the bigger picture head-on.
“It just goes to show that racism will always be a part of the world, a part of America,” James said. “Hate in America, especially for African Americans, is living every day. Even though it’s concealed most of the time, even though people hide their faces and will say things about you and when they see you they smile in your face, it’s alive every single day.”
Seeing James targeted with hate is jarring because he’s so high-profile, but everyday people have endured worse recently. In mid-May, a black student and army officer in Maryland was stabbed to death by a 22-year-old white man who was a member of at least one online hate group. In Oregon last week, a white man killed two people and wounded another with a knife after targeting two black women with racial epithets. Both attacks are part of a troubling trend.
“I think back to Emmett Till’s mom actually,” James said Wednesday while addressing reporters after his home was vandalized. “It’s one of the first things I thought of, the reason that she had an open casket is because she wanted to show the world what her son went through as far as a hate crime and being black in America.”
Till was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 at age 14 after allegedly hitting on a white woman. James is a 32-year-old sports god whose house was vandalized. But it doesn’t take much effort to connect the dots scattered among all that’s happened in the 52 years since Till was murdered.
“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is — it’s tough,” James said Wednesday. “We’ve got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans until we feel equal in America.”
Adam Jones is another person who knows this too well. He’s a five-time All Star in Major League Baseball and a four-time Gold Glove winner. But during a recent road game in Boston, Jones reported being taunted with the n-word and having a bag of peanuts thrown at him.
After the vandalism at James’ house was reported Wednesday, Jones tweeted a message of support.
The NBA Finals tip off Thursday, and James will be cheered as a hero by fans tuning in from coast to coast. But he’ll still be black in America.
Wednesday again proved that status comes with uniquely vile trials and tribulations, even in 2017 and no matter how successful one becomes.