LeBron James, a senior employee of the pro-China sports league commonly known as the National Basketball Association (NBA), is refusing to use his platform as a global celebrity to promote the COVID-19 vaccine.
James, who has consistently asserted his obligation to speak out "on everything that's going on around this country and around the world," declined to answer a reporter's question over the weekend about whether he intended to get vaccinated. "That's a conversation that my family and I will have," he said. "Pretty much keep that to a private thing."
The NBA star's refusal to speak out and encourage others to take the vaccine is a huge blow to the scientific community and to all who believe in science. Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others, has expressed "extreme confidence" in the safety of the FDA-approved vaccines, and has urged every American to "get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible."
James's insistence that believing in science (or not) is a "private thing" runs contrary to his recent response to criticism of his political activism. Last month, Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic argued that James and other famous athletes should "do what you're good at" and avoid getting involved in politics. The soccer star's critique echoed an infamous line from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who in 2018 suggested James and other NBA activists should "shut up and dribble."
"I would never shut up about things that are wrong," James said last month when asked about Ibrahimovic's comments. "I'll use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that's going on around this country and around the world. There's no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how powerful this platform and my voice is."
According to a Washington Free Beacon fact-checking analysis, the COVID-19 vaccine appears to fall into the category of "everything that's going on around this country and around the world." The same is true of the Chinese government's authoritarian crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, as well as the genocidal atrocities being perpetrated against China's population of Uighur Muslims.
James was one of the NBA's most outspoken critics of former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who in December 2019 tweeted his support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters. After Beijing threatened financial repercussions in response to Morey's support for democracy, James slammed the league executive as "misinformed or not really educated on the situation."
James has a $1 billion sneaker contract with Nike, a company that relies on Chinese manufacturing and is heavily invested in the Chinese market. He argued that "many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually" as a result of Morey's implicit critique of Chinese authoritarianism. "Yes, we do have freedom of speech," he said. "But there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too."
In October 2020, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz became the first NBA player to publicly denounce China's treatment of its Uighur population. "Wrong is wrong," the French national wrote in response to an Instagram post about the plight of Uighur Muslims, millions of whom are "detained and tortured in concentration camps in China."
LeBron James has yet to weigh in. Maybe it's a private thing.