Eugene Cho

is lebron james a “runaway slave?”

What do you think about this provocative question:

Is Lebron James a “runaway slave”

I promise. I’m not obsessed with the Lebron James story. But yesterday, I read [Rev.] Jesse Jackson’s comments & criticism about Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and his perception of Gilbert seeing Lebron as a “runaway slave” and honestly, was miffed:

Jesse Jackson criticized Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert on Sunday,saying Gilbert sees LeBron James as a “runaway slave” and that the owner’s comments after the free-agent forward decided to join the Miami Heat put the player in danger.

His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship — between business partners — and LeBron honored his contract.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that race issues are important to me not for the sake of raising race or racism issues but because as a follower of Christ, it matters to me because racism divides and as followers of Christ, we’re called to the ministry of reconciliation.

Honestly, Jackson has lost much of his credibility in my mind for various reasons but one of the reasons is that for Jackson, the “race” factor appears to be raised in so many issues and I wonder that by raising the race card on so many instances – if it actually negates it’s true danger and reality.

What do you think? Is this an example of systemic racism? Or is this another example of someone inappropriately raising the race card?

For those who are familiar with these issues, you’re probably thinking about William Rhoden – the renowned NY Times columnist and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.

Rhoden’s provocative thesis is that today’s black athletes are akin to pre-Civil War plantation slaves, because slavery had as much to do with power and control as it had to do with wealth. The big-money sports in America–football, baseball, basketball–are owned and controlled almost exclusively by white men, and yet each has a disproportionately large percentage of black athletes. They are well paid, but they have no direct power over the current and future direction of these sports. More than that, they lack any real control over their roles within these sports…

In doing so, he examines the damaging effects of what he calls the conveyor belt in the contemporary sports world, where children as young as 11 and 12 are pegged as prospects and viewed as potential sources of income through middle school, high school, and college. – Robert Saunderson,

I’m curious to hear from Rhoden and if he doesn’t write about this situation publicly, I intend to ask him in person later this Fall as we’ll be speaking at a conference together in North Carolina.

Here’s the full article from ESPN

CHICAGO — Jesse Jackson criticized Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert on Sunday, saying Gilbert sees LeBron James as a “runaway slave” and that the owner’s comments after the free-agent forward decided to join the Miami Heat put the player in danger.

His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship — between business partners — and LeBron honored his contract.

Shortly after James announced his decision last week, Gilbert fired off an incendiary letter to Cleveland’s fans, ripping the 25-year-old and promising to deliver a title before James wins one. He called James’ decision “cowardly” and later told The Associated Press he believes James quit during a handful of Cavaliers playoff games.

“He has gotten a free pass,” Gilbert told the AP in a phone interview late Thursday night. “People have covered up for [James] for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is.”

Jackson said Gilbert’s comments were “mean, arrogant and presumptuous.”

“He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers,” the reverend said in a release from his Chicago-based civil rights group, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship — between business partners — and LeBron honored his contract.”

Messages were left Sunday night seeking comment from Gilbert, the Cavaliers and James.

Jackson also called Gilbert’s comments an attack on all NBA players and said the owner should face a “challenge” from the league and the players’ association.


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21 Responses

  1. jchenwa says:

    Yeah, no need to go there. Seems the owner was just mad not racist.

    • Marc says:

      oh my god stop talking about Jessie Jackson the guy still relates to slavery.. get over it you don’t like working for rich white guys than blame capitalism not some money hungry basketball player or any owner they play for.. sports players enable this setup more than anything.. Jessie Jackson is just a racial warmonger.. the guy is more racist than most white people, if JJ or any black ppl still thinks white people owe them something than move back to Africa seriously we paid you back tenfold

  2. Erick says:

    Although I see the dynamic of disproportionate power in professional American sports between whites and people of color, I don’t think this incident has the marks of racism. I do think Gilbert acted unprofessionally in this case and perhaps had a high level of expectation for Lebron to stay with his hometown team, since it has meant so much for the city. I live in the Twin Cities and having recently watched Joe Mauer’s (our hometown guy) free agency this spring, it would have greatly upset the entire state had he switched allegiance to anywhere else -so I get the frustration. However, both Jackson and Gilbert are stirring up anger and are clearly on the defensive. Unfortunately, with great emotion their personal frustration has gone public and that has made things messy.

    Yes, I think Lebron should have stayed in Cleveland for many reasons, but he didn’t…oh well. It’s time to move on with class and stay healthily competitive, not take cheap shots.

  3. Tom Altepeter says:

    This is the type of thing that’s often easy to dismiss for reasons that should make us think about it all the more.

  4. Adam Lehman says:

    Ask Jesse Jackson if Green Bays backlash towards Brett Farve’s departure was the same as “runaway slave mentality?”

  5. Kyle Reed says:

    My big question is how does this lead to racial reconciliation?
    Rev. Jackson is about that but this seems to just bring more division. I take everything he says with a grain of salt, but I am sure there are others out there that are going to take what Jackson says to the extreme in both ways.

    I just struggle to even see a story here. And if I remember correctly, most slaves don’t get paid 14 or 15 million a year.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Kyle: It doesn’t. Jackson has lost much of his credibility.

      But having said that, one can technically be paid 14 or 15 million a year and still be a slave, no?

      That’s the premise of William Rhoden’s book. But I disagree in this case because we have athletes that are from various backgrounds that seek the status as professional athletes. If anything, they are “commondities” of a system that seeks to make as much money of them and the system before they’re no longer useful.

  6. thenaborhood says:

    For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not a huge Jesse Jackson fan. With that being said, I feel he’s pretty off base here. I came across an article from a buddy that I think pretty much sums it up:

    This isn’t about racism–Dan Gilbert’s letter is his way of scapegoating LeBron for his own poor management decisions that lead to LeBron’s departure. I do understand why he would be upset to see 100’s of millions of dollars in revenue move to Miami but Gilbert should be criticized for lack of professionalism, not racism.

  7. jeff e. says:

    I would say Gilbert sounds more like a spurned lover who will “rebound” with the first girl who doesn’t say no… or maybe like a 4 year old kid who whines and lashes out when they don’t get their way.

    A slave owner would’ve hunted their slave down and either brought them back unwittingly or killed them.

  8. Tony Lin says:

    I think Jesse Jackson owes an apology to all the actual slaves and runaway slaves… both current and past. To compare the bickering of multimillionaires to the plight of slaves seeking freedom is an insult.

  9. The owner is just lame for putting that ridiculously junior-high sounding letter out, but leave it to Jackson to get himself in the fray and make an even bigger deal with it.

  10. Bryan Todd says:

    I think Jessee’s son said it best a few years ago. “So, I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric. He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.” – Jesse Jackson Jr.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Wow. Didn’t realize his own son said that. That pretty much closes the deal.

      • Bryan Todd says:

        Yep. Plus, not a bad digg with the keep hope alive and keep your mouth shut line. That’s classic!


        I agree with you on his tendency to play the race card too often.

        And unfortunately, I think that because he has lost credibility with so many, that it often makes the conversation that much harder to have when people play the race card in situations where it is needed, but end up “sounding” like Jesse.

        From my limited perspective, I think this is a misuse of the race card AND I think there are instances when there is systematic racism, just not in this particular situation.

  11. Anthony says:

    Wow. Personally, I don’t think ANYONE who’s making that much money has moral high ground to invoke the race card. It also doesn’t help that Rev. Jackson seems to see most issues through the lens of systemic racism. This is a battle between the privileged, regardless of who I may (or may not) agree with.

  12. Ramon says:

    Speaking from an African American perspective. I think the issue is not the money. The issue is power and control. This is not just seen in basketball. People say get over it. Slavery is not an issue anymore but if you look at the state of the black community right now then we know the psychological and sociological effects of slavery still linger on. For those of you who are not in the black community and have not experienced these effects then of course it sounds ludicrous.

    I think Rev Jackson does throw the race card out too much but I do believe he is saying that Gilbert is treating Lebron like a slave. That’s what goes through the minds of many African Americans and their interactions with white people in authority.

  13. Larry says:

    This is difficult, for William Rohden’s argument makes sense to me, and in the context of Rohden’s analysis Jesse Jackson’s comments make sense. But I also understand the “give me a break, are you serious” response to Jesse Jackson’s comments, and the argument that we are dealing with a breach of professionalism and not racism on the part of Gilbert.

    I wonder though what is at stake in each of these perspectives on this: Why is it important to simply label this as an issue of business and professionalism? Certainly that is true, but it would have been true about slavery when slavery was an accepted economic and business practice. Why is it important to label this as a reenactment and analogous ways of control as with slavery, ie quintessential American Racism? Does someone who makes so much money really have no power? Jackson sees potential highly negative and racist reactions to Gilbert’s words and Lebron’s leaving Cleaveland, and that Gilbert has launched a sort of man hunt. I am not sure that is true, and yet I do think there are issues of control, and Race here. Would a White ballplayer have this much controversy over his free agency, has there been? People who follow sports more closely than I will have to answer that question.

    In the very least Rohden and this situation should remind us that really it is not that long ago that Africans were the slave class in this country and there emancipation didn’t change their lot or place in society all that much for a long time after. I think we forget that one does not need to be overtly or intentionally racist to tap into that history that is still very near us in any other perspective than our current mentality that every decade is the invention of a new world.
    All that said I don’t think Gilbert is necesarily intentionally racist here (though I can’t really know his heart and intentions) and I don’t think he sees his relationship with Lebron as one in which he owns Lebron in any way. I think he is an angry business man who has ideas of loyalty bound up with success and wealth. But I also think Jackson has a point, I think he let his rhetoric get away with him and thus probably appears to many to be over reacting. I don’t think he is, and he is reminding us that patterns of slavery don’t just go away, patterns of economy aren’t simply erased because 150 years or so have passed. They are not erased by law makers and politicians.

  14. Mike says:

    A big part of credibility comes from championing both (all) sides of an issue. It seems to me that JJ only (exclusively?) appears (very publicly) when there’s a controversial and negative situation involving someone with white skin and someone with darker skin. Is it ever possible for such a situation to exist between two fallen people without elements of racism?
    For JJ to have any credibility, shouldn’t he appear publicly to point out positive situations of race relations and reconciliation? Maybe I’m just not aware of any…
    More to the original question, I don’t see LJ as a “runaway slave”. He’s a *free* agent. There’s no longer any contractual obligation between the Cavs (it’s owners) and LJ. I don’t see how the analogy fits in any way.
    The feelings related to loyalty and betrayal make sense to me. Isn’t it possible that Usher (part Cavs owner) has similar feelings?

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One Day’s Wages

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First day of our daughter's college years at this great school. We love you. We're so proud of you.We believe in you. Go Huskies. Go Dawgs. And also, beat Stanford this Friday. As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it.

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