ESPN anchor Cari Champion, who led the conversation in the video, asked how the players would describe “the climate for an athlete with a platform” who wants to “talk about what’s happening in our world.”
“The climate is hot,” James replied. He said the current president — filling the “No. 1 job in America” — is “someone who doesn’t understand the people and really don’t give a f--- about the people.”
Clearly upset with the athletes' take on the president, Fox News host Laura Ingraham — an avid Trump supporter — addressed the recording, saying the athletes should stay out of the political conversation and should stick to sports.
“Must they run their mouths like that? Unfortunately, a lot of kids — and some adults — take these ignorant comments seriously,” Ingraham said Thursday night on her show. “And it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid a hundred million dollars a year to bounce a ball.”
“Oh, and LeBron and Kevin: You’re great players, but no one voted for you. ... So keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”
The “shut up and dribble” command isn't that different from the “shut up and sing” directive many conservatives lob at liberals in the entertainment industry who are critical of policies on the right.
And the “stay out of politics” sentiment is usually a viewpoint reserved only for their political opponents. After all, the president often praises athletes who support his view of America, such as New England Patriot Tom Brady, who once kept a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker.
Ingraham, who was once floated as a possible White House press secretary to replace Sean Spicer, defended her attack on Friday.
“If you want to be a political pundit, you’re coming on my court, okay? Let’s do it. Let’s have a real conversation about black unemployment,” she said on her show. “Let’s talk about violence in the inner city. Let’s talk about all the issues, like school choice. Let’s do it. Don’t think you’re not going to get criticized if all you do is a drive-by hit on Trump and say he’s no leader.”
The idea that the “court” of political punditry belongs to a host on the president's preferred cable network is bound to get pushback.
What makes Ingraham an expert — a host on a cable network with primarily white hosts and conservative guests — on issues related to people of color in urban areas?
Athletes have a long history of using their platforms to express their political views and probably aren't going to stop, especially if politicians like Trump continue to share their thoughts about athletes. And that is in part because an athlete's identity isn't solely defined by his or her profession.
Entertainers and celebrities discuss American politics for many of the same reasons that business owners, service members and religious leaders discuss politics: They are American citizens with ideas about policies that affect the communities they represent.
America is incredibly divided politically. And most Americans point to Trump, who called NFL players protesting racism “sons of bitches,” as one of the main agitators. But that probably isn't going to change by telling people to sit down and be quiet, particularly when they are voicing concerns on issues many Americans are concerned with themselves.
By Ingraham telling Americans who don't agree with her views to “shut up and dribble,” it further isolates certain groups and leads them to add the host — and her network — to the list of influential voices who do not understand the concerns of those who do not look like them.