Trayvon Martin’s Death, LeBron James and the Miami Heat

“The thing is that, when you are a popular athlete, and you accept the money and the fame, and you become a front person for those who have the power, and they say be like this guy and kids that are coming up say, well, be like him, I won’t protest against anything, I’ll accept everything, I’ll just try to be a great athlete and make a lot of money. So a culture dies when you do that. You’re doing a great injustice to young kids that are coming up, and I never wanted to be a representation of less than a man and have young kids coming up emulating me.” — Jim Brown 

The senseless killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain” has provoked anguish, rage and now, at long last, resistance. We’ve seen rallies, demonstrations and walkouts at dozens upon dozens of high schools in Florida alone. Even more remarkably, this resistance has found expression in the world of sports. An impressive group of NBA players from Carmelo Anthony to Steve Nash to the leaders of the NBA Players Association have spoken out and called for justice. 

The most notable and widely publicized example of athletic solidarity was seen on the NBA’s marquee team, the Miami Heat. The entire Heat squad posed for a photo, all wearing the now iconic hooded sweatshirts. Trayvon was wearing a “hoodie” when he was killed, and this fact has, maddeningly, been a central rationale given by his killer’s defenders for why he was perceived as a threat.

Of all teams in the league, the Heat had the greatest responsibility to step up and be heard. They were Trayvon’s favorite and he was killed that late afternoon after leaving his house for a snack during half-time of the NBA All-Star game, which featured the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Given the depth of this movement, particularly in southern Florida, it’s not too surprising that the Heat made this powerful gesture. But maybe it is surprising for many fans to learn that the effort was driven by “The King” himself, LeBron James. The photo was reportedly James’s idea and it was first posted to his personal Twitter account with the hashtag #WeWantJustice.

James later said, “It was very emotional, an emotional day for all of us. Taking that picture, we’re happy that we’re able to shed light on the situation that we feel is unjust.”

His teammate Wade commented to the Associated Press“This situation hit home for me because last Christmas, all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies. So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth.”

Later, at their game on Friday night, James and several of his teammates, took the floor with messages such as “RIP Trayvon Martin” and “We want justice” scrawled on their sneakers.

LeBron’s actions might surprise fans given that he’s never publicly displayed a social conscience, but perhaps they shouldn’t. Years ago, before “The Decision,” before he “took his talents to South Beach,” before anyone burned his jersey, and before he became the sports world’s favorite villain, a young LeBron James—pegged already the most physically gifted basketball player to ever walk the earth—said he had two goals in life. One was to be the richest athlete in history and the other was to be “a global icon like Muhammad Ali.”

These might be two great goals, but they don’t exactly go great together. The contradiction is rooted in the fact that Ali remains a global icon because of the fame and fortune he sacrificed for what he believed to be the greater good. “The Greatest” took deeply unpopular stands against war, racism and even the mainstream civil rights movement. He was sentenced to five years in Leavenworth for opposing the draft, and said, “If I have to go to jail, I’ll go to jail happy.” He also shouted three words pro athletes are hardwired to never say: “Damn the money.” Lebron James would have miles to travel, millions of dollars to forsake and dozens of Confederate talk radio hosts to offend to ever be mentioned in the same breath as Ali. But this is a start.

The fact that LeBron James has used his exalted platform to speakout for Trayvon and his family even at the risk of his own bottom line, should be in these dark days, a great source of hope. Trayvon’s killing has motivated millions to wake up and give a damn about what rots beneath the mini-malls, gated communities and “security culture” that shades great swaths of our country. We all have a role to play in not only making sure there is justice for Trayvon but also in ensuring no other family or community has to suffer such a loss. If and when there is another killing rooted in fear and ignorance, we now have every right to ask LeBron, “What are you going to say now?” That’s the scary thing about choosing to give a damn. People will expect you to mean it.

15 Reader Comments | Add a comment

has to be more to the story...

the guy wouldnt have just shot the kid. there has to be more, a lot more, to this story...

why not?

Mr. Unibrow, why do you think someone would need more than fear and racism as a motivation to kill? Why presume a killer is innocent of wrongdoing? Are you suggesting that killers are usually just misunderstood? That a "guy" wouldn't just shoot someone?

But, you know, now that you mention it, there probably is more to the story. I say, let's get a trial going and find out!

No justice, no peace

The primary issue with this story is justice for Trayvon, and by extension all black men (and all of society for that matter). "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Ordinary citizens can't decide to pursue unarmed black males, gun them down, then concoct a story to make it seem like an act of self-defense. The hoodie issue is a distraction. I'll be curious to see how these athletes respond if justice isn't served.

@Unibrow, there probably is more to the story...

There usually is more than what is reported. George Zimmerman, who shot Martin, did call 911 in the process, so he was not trying to get away with something. He claims that Martin assaulted him first, and was bleeding as of when police arrived. He was not arrested at the time.

Still, even if you catch a suspect committing a crime, you do not have a right to execute him. Zimmerman was armed and Martin was not. There are questions about sequence here; how much time had elapsed between the altercation and the eventual shooting. Zimmerman said he had pursued Martin not because he had already assaulted him, but because he "looked suspicious," leaving open questions as to whether Zimmerman provoked the altercation in the first place.

This case is far from over, and even if Zimmerman is eventually absolved of criminal guilt, he can still face a wrongful death civil suit. And there is still the whole matter of the state of Florida, if one civillian can extrajudicially kill another without fear of prosecution, which is how it looks for now.

Aaron - Huh?

All sense of logic and reason flies out the window when race is at the forefront of the dispute.

"Still, even if you catch a suspect committing a crime, you do not have a right to execute him."
What does this have to do with this incident? Trayvon was not in the act of committing a crime. He was walking to the home where he was an invited guest. Trayvon was not a suspect. George Zimmerman had no authorization to declare him a suspect or to pursue him. Why make this statement? I guess you mean to say if you can't execute a suspect, you can't execute an law-abiding citizen who's walking home from the store.

It is clear Trayvon ran from Zimmerman. He ran out of fear according to Trayvon's girlfriend. But according to Zimmerman, when their actual confrontation took place, Zimmerman had begun to retreat and Trayvon had transformed into the confrontational aggressor. Zimmerman changed from the aggressive pursuer in the 911 call to a defenseless, vulnerable, victim. This makes no sense. Why run from the guy only to turn around and go after him after you get away? I say Zimmerman is trying to get away with something. MURDER!

I'm not saying no altercation took place or even that Trayvon didn't get the best of Zimmerman. I'm just saying the circumstances don't support Zimmerman's telling of the story.

Zimmerman's supporters don't believe themselves

Everyone knows Zimmerman is a racist and a murderer. Some just fear that this case could work against their political ideology, so they're looking for any plausibility they can find to argue that Zimmerman was defending himself. I think this case is the last straw, and will be the turning point in this country's insane approach to gun control, that started after 9/11.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Conspiracy Brother wrote:

"injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


If Zimmerman doesn't face justice, and I think he will, but if he doesn't, it will send a message that anyone can stalk, accost, attack, and even shoot another citizen solely because they look suspicious. That is frightening. And that is exactly why I think the DOJ is going to see to it that Zimmerman faces charges.

All the press

People only care when it benefits their cause.

I wish there was this much of an uproar anytime ANYONE gets murdered.

Justice is everyone's cause

Dude, if Zimmerman had been arrested and charged with a crime there would not have been an uproar over this particular murder. I.e., this is about injustice not simply another murder.

And yes for some of us this is very personal. If you've ever been profiled, wrongly accused, lied about and assumed guilty because of the color of your skin, this is quite likely a case that touches you deeply. Unfortunately Trayvon lost his life. Others have lost careers, jobs, opportunities, lucrative positions, etc. I think it's important to send the message that justice, fair play, and doing the right thing protects and values all Americans regardless of race and color.

Athletic Gubernatorial Coalition

I would like Dave Zirin to contact me at the email given, OR for anyone to contact me at 707-994-1839 in Clear Lake, California ASAP. There is an effort in my state to support an Athletic Gubernatorial Coalition. Elaboration upon request. Blessings in solidarity, Oxman P.S. The coalition proposed would have a direct impact on what is dear to the hearts of all those who are protesting the horror related to Trayvon Martin. Thanks for your kind consideration.

Action which follows a new paradigm

I am writing in support of the Athletic Gubernatorial Coalition which has been touched upon above. It would -- clearly -- address the major issues related to the injustice and abominable killing of Trayvon Martin. However, it begs for one and all reading this to contact Richard at ASAP. Sincerely, Arnold Pepper

Entertainers & Athletes

If truth is on your side, you use truth. If law is on your side, you use law. If either one is not on your side, what do you do? Answer: you confuse the issue... Dave, it is convenient for these entertainers to display their hoodies and offer their support because it is popular... Where were they when Troy Davis was being excuted?

There was more to the story

There was more to the story he was a wanna-be rent a cop. And I'm not always the biggest David Zarin fan but he phrased it the best we do pay a price for our insulated, paranoid, over grown security state, world of today where it is okay to shoot first and ask questions later.

stand yor ground law on trial (continuation from an earlier post)

Which is why the Stand your ground law has to be tried, preferably in conjunction with the juctice for Trayvon Martin trial.

stand yor ground law on trial (continuation from an earlier post)

Which is why the Stand your ground law has to be tried, preferably in conjunction with the juctice for Trayvon Martin trial.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to
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