That’s why what Wade and James did stands out. They’re participating in a politicized form of social activism. That’s the dangerous type.
They made their feelings known despite the blowback they could face from some of the fans who pay their multimillion salaries. Following the initial splash of the tweeted team photo, Wade and James commented about the case in interviews and offered support for the deceased boy’s family.
Although that may not seem like controversial stuff to some, don’t kid yourself: The subject of race remains polarizing. There’s potentially plenty of blowback out there whenever the issue is addressed in a public forum.
Even if fans don’t react negatively, skittish corporate execs might. Wade and James make millions from their product endorsements. The companies who pay them no doubt are concerned they’re risking alienating some consumers.
James reportedly earned $30 million in endorsements during 2011, ranking third on SI.com’s compilation of the 50 top-earning American athletes. With $14 million in endorsement income, Wade ranked 11th.
There’s a lot for them to lose by making political statements, which was Jordan’s thinking. Wade and James could have followed the recent trend and simply put their money to work, contributing to organizations that promote racial understanding. It would have been politically safer to appear in a television public-service announcement stressing the importance of tolerance. They chose, however, to take a bold approach because the case is personal to them. Martin’s death struck them, as fathers of sons, at their core. I know how they feel.
Although my son isn’t old enough to leave home by himself, I fear what could happen to him one day if someone found him suspicious simply because of his clothing and his race. I’ve thought about that every time police have stopped me for no reason while I was driving home, and Martin’s death reawakened those unsettling fears. It’s an unwelcome bond African American fathers share.
Among blacks, Martin’s death has stirred feelings of racial identity that transcend economic status. Wade and James felt compelled to act as black men, fathers and sons. Fortunately for them, those roles matter to them most.
Regardless of what Wade and James accomplish on the basketball court for the remainder of their careers, nothing they do there will be more important than what they did for Trayvon Martin.