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Lebron James and Stephen Curry: Athletes Who Are Young, Gifted, Black, and Outspoken

By Zachary Draves

We cannot talk about the history of the United States without discussing the history of Sports. Consequently, you cannot talk about the history of race in America without discussing the history of race in American sports. That leads to where we are now, even in the midst of greatness in sports, we are living in a world of so much turmoil, divisiveness, uncertainty, and where racial bigotry has become mainstreamed, particularly with Trump as President. When we think of the intersection of race and sports, we think of heroes such as Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Hank Aaron, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Arthur Ashe, Curt Flood, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Jim Brown. These athletes not only fought for access to sports and achieved excellence, but many of them spoke out against racial injustice when it was much needed. Today, some of the most prominent black athletes have continued that tradition and are paying the price of taking a stand. Two of them are currently battling it out in the NBA Finals, Lebron James and Stephen Curry.

Lebron James is probably the most famous basketball player in the world. His success mirrors that of Michael Jordan in the sense that he transcends race through his talent and making the game worldwide. However, he is now becoming known for his willingness to take stands on social justice issues. Some notable examples include him and his fellow Miami Heat teammates in 2012 taking a team picture with hoods on to show support in the fight for justice for Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African American teenager who was senselessly murdered by vigilante George Zimmerman because he was perceived as a threat in what became a highly publicized incident and trial. He also joined fellow NBA players in wearing black shirts saying "I Can't Breathe" the final words of Eric Garner after he died of a chokehold at the hands of NYPD in a statement of solidarity, his overall support of the Black Lives Matter movement, his support for Colin Kaepernick, and speaking out against Trump's Travel Ban earlier this year. But perhaps his most courageous statement came during the 2010 off season when he famously left Cleveland to join the Miami Heat prompting a backlash that had tremendous racial overtones and Lebron took on the tradition of Curt Flood who fought Major League Baseball's Reverse Clause that took him to the Supreme Court and eventually led to Free Agency. He essentially followed the example of the Black Panther Party's call for black self-determination. Now, in the midst of the NBA Finals, he has to deal with his home in Los Angeles being vandalized with the N word being spray painted. He handled the situation not only with grace and dignity, but with honesty and conviction, stating very clearly that no matter how famous or how much money he may have, he is still black in America. No matter what happens from this point on, Lebron James takes on the role of the star athlete of his time who is not afraid to take a stand, but thankfully he his not alone.

Simultaneously, Stephen Curry is blazing a own trail as the activist athlete is his own right. He is a man of great character, a man of faith, a family man, and also equally unafraid to not take a stand. Not only is he the star of the Golden State Warriors, but his impact goes beyond the court. He took bold stances such as speaking out against the HB2 bill in his home state of North Carolina which criminalizes the LGBTQ community, he honored the memory of the three Muslim students that were killed in a hate crime at the University of North Carolina by writing their names on his shoes during the NBA All Star Game, he lent his voice to support the need for Criminal Justice Reform by joining the #Cut50 campaign founded by Van Jones that is geared toward reducing the prison population by 50%, he teamed with President Obama in the My Brother's Keeper Initiative geared towards improving the lives of African American men and boys, he as well lent his support to Colin Kaepernick, he took on the CEO of Under Armor for his comments that praised Trump, and he also spoke out against Trump's Travel Ban. Additionally, he took part in an NBA sponsored PSA campaign to raise awareness of the epidemic of gun violence directed by Spike Lee during the NBA Christmas Day game in 2015. He has shown consistently that he is willing to take a stand whenever and he refuses to separate his success on the court from living a life on integrity, honesty, and decency and to be a fully engaged American citizen. As he goes through a rematch with Lebron during this year's Finals, they maybe rivals on the court, but off the court they share the similar goal of justice and equality.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethic's clearly states that one of the six principles of the profession is social justice, the ability to combat injustice and discrimination in all its forms and the sports world is no different. For us as social workers that work with athletes, we must follow the examples of the great athlete activists past and present in creating a better and just world. We must be knowledgeable about the history of sports in our society and how we can raise awareness and then fight for justice through sports. We must use the practice of intersectionality, looking a systems of oppression through the lens of race, gender, sexual orientation. class, and disability in our mission. Lebron James and Stephen Curry are doing their part with bravery and conviction and along with being outspoken they are proudly in the words of the great singer and activist Nina Simone "Young, Gifted, and Black" and that is that.

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