“What I've noticed over the past few months [is] he's kind of used sports to kind of divide us, and that's something that I can't relate to,” James said during the interview. “Sports has never been something that divides people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.”
James was specifically addressing Trump’s attacks on NFL players protesting racism. It appears that most Americans agree that racial tension has noticeably increased under Trump. According to a Pew report on the subject, 6 in 10 Americans say Trump's election has led to worse race relations in the United States.
While there have certainly been racially divisive moments in American sports over the years, Trump has used what has often been a unifying force to cause great polarization. Despite the history of athletes using their platform to highlight injustice in America, Trump has characterized such behavior as unpatriotic and has referred to such athletes in a profane way, even calling for them to be fired.
International sports events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup, have been used to bring together countries dealing with racial issues for decades. One notable example involved American track stars making the Black Power salute on the medal podium during the 1968 Olympics to protest racism in the United States.
Among of the most historic moments regarding race in American sports was when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by becoming the first black American to play baseball in the Major Leagues. There was still a long way to go in addressing racism within the sports world. But after that, sports became an increasingly important way to connect people of different races — for some of them, like James, that connection made a lasting impression.
“Sports was the first time I was ever around someone white,” James told CNN. “I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got the opportunity to learn about me. . . . And I was like, 'Oh, wow, this is all because of sports.'”
But many now fear that experiences like James's could be at risk as Trump and others project their limited, conservative definitions of patriotism onto athletes and, frankly, onto all Americans.
This is, in part, why the majority of Americans consider Trump to be such a polarizing leader. A 2017 Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that some 66 percent of Americans think Trump is the most divisive president in recent history.
Perhaps the bigger challenge is that it doesn't appear that change will be happening anytime soon. Just this month on Twitter, Trump called for activist NFL players to be fined.
The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again - can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018
James, who has repeatedly spoken out about race issues in America, now has no desire to talk to the current head of state on the topic.
“I would never sit across from him,” the NBA star told CNN. “I’ve sat across from Barack [Obama], though.”