Readers Debate Jesse, LeBron and Runaway Slaves

Check out what the ColorLines community is saying about Jesse Jackson's declaration that the Cavs treated LeBron James like a slave.

By Jorge Rivas Jul 14, 2010

A number of ColorLines readers voiced strong opinions to one of our recent stories and almost every single comment included critical and thoughtful analysis that merit sharing them with all of our readers. We asked ColorLines readers earlier this week whether Jesse Jackson was right to [compare LeBron James’s old boss to a slave owner.]( It sparked a great discussion with strong and seriously thoughtful opinions that everybody else ought to go check out. The background: Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote a nasty letter calling James’ decision to leave the city cowardly and criticizing the way he handled the announcement as a narcissistic. Jackson thought Gilbert’s statement reeked of racism. "He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers," said Jackson. "He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship–between business partners–and LeBron honored his contract." Sixty-three percent of ColorLines readers who participated in our poll about it said Jackson’s remarks were a little extra. A number of commenters put that in perspective. As commenter Matt put it, Jackson’s comments diminished "the gravity of the plight of those who are actually enslaved or have been enslaved, either overtly or systemically." Reader "JD," however, noted that while Jackson’s language may have been too much, his point was worth hearing.

While Jesse Jackson may be inflammatory, there is some very real professional bias that he is speaking to. The fact of the matter is that professional and semi-professional athletes are rarely more than beasts of burden to clubhouse members off the field–owners, marketers, publicists, etc. *All* athletes are treated as renewable commodities, because in many instances its not far from the truth.

Others added that Jackson was on to something, but missed the mark. "TG81" notes,

If we were to discuss sports as a plantation system and black athletes as modern day slaves we might want to look at collegiate sports instead. Where athletes receive a very poor education while their bodies are run into the ground for the betterment of the team. As an individual, black collegiate athletes aren’t given much.

And from AJ Farrar:

I think it would have been more pertinent if JJ made a pronouncement against the queen bee/worker bee dynamic we have going on in America’s workplaces. Gilbert probably feels entitled to James’ loyalty less because James is black, and more because Gilbert is a wealthy head honcho who can’t stand that one of his "employees" is empowered enough to make his own decisions about where he takes his talent and money. People who make not even .1% of what Lebron makes every game are being treated just the same, if not worse by their bosses.

But perhaps commenter "Emily Hobson" had the comment that we can all agree on: > Jackson has a good point but I wish he would use his access to the soapbox to speak about more pressing and structural issues, such as police murder and brutality (Oscar Grant), racialized poverty, or the ongoing indisputable slavery of human trafficking facilitated by our miserable immigration laws. To read the full discussion thread visit ["LeBron–$68 Million ‘Runaway Slave’?"](

(Photo by J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)