Near the end of his All-Star Media Day availability Saturday—in which LeBron James touched on topics ranging from dog-whistling Fox News hosts to salads—the NBA’s biggest star also spoke about the issue of gun control in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“We’re all sending our kids to school, right?” James said. “We all feel like our kids are going to return. We have a kid who wasn’t legally able to get a beer, but could go buy an AR–15? It doesn’t make sense. And I’m not saying it should be possible for him to buy a beer…I don’t have the answer to it…I hope that we don’t continue to see this. There’s been way too many [shootings] in the last 10 years.”
The NBA has certainly been a space for sociopolitical conversations the last few years, particularly since Donald Trump and his brand of demagoguery have entered the public consciousness. And typically, a similar cycle occurs every time someone speaks about important issues. Their comments and willingness to speak praised, they are lauded for bringing awareness to a certain cause. And white coaches are often especially celebrated for their wokeness. But what’s the next step?
Saturday was not the first time James has spoken about gun control. In October 2015, James said there were “no room for guns” in the wake of a school shooting and gun-related death of an infant. Back then, James called for stricter regulations around the selling of guns.
“Obviously you’re not going to be able to take every gun out, I don’t know how you can do that,” James said. “There’s so many around now, today. But if there’s some stipulations behind it or some penalties, some big time penalties or rules or regulations about carrying firearms, legal or illegal, people will second-guess themselves.”
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, the topic of gun control has again permeated the NBA.
“If a country like Canada can control guns and have guns against the law and have strict gun laws like they do, why can’t we? Why can’t we?,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people running our country, to actually do anything,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters earlier this week.
To Kerr’s point, if it doesn’t matter to the government, could the combined cultural and financial capital of some of the NBA’s heavy hitters help us achieve more in the fight for gun control?
The idea here isn’t to say NBA players aren’t doing enough to impact their community or society at large. James particularly has done some profound work through his charitable foundation, and his emphasis on education will likely have tangible long-term benefits for numerous children. But on the issue of gun control specifically, there could be room for an NBA-led coalition to help somehow, someway impact legislation.
If there’s anything that’s obvious in the wake of Las Vegas, and Pulse, and Sandy Hook, and now Parkland, it’s that inaction is leading to deaths of countless innocent lives. But the quotes we print and point to as significant are also only half the battle. As citizens, we theoretically have the opportunity to vote out politicians who accept huge money from the NRA. As people with huge platforms and considerable wealth, it’s possible NBA-ers like James, Popovich, Kerr or Casey can help to put even more direct pressure on politicians to address gun control.
It is of course not the job of LeBron James or Gregg Popovich to help fix one of our country’s greatest societal issues. And it’s unfair to expect them to be the ones to make change when we vote people into office who are supposed to reflect our interests. But James, Pop, Kerr and many others have identified themselves as people willing to take stands, and now is their opportunity to also take more action.
That’s the next step for this political moment in the NBA. Players and coaches should continue to endorse candidates and speak out in the wake of flashpoint moments. But they can also protest. They can very publicly donate to groups who are combating the selling of firearms. They can call out politicians by name. They can demand the attention of legislators. They can help elevate the voices of those with smaller platforms, like the survivors of the Parkland shooting who are demanding action from congress. They can work closely with activists who spend their lives working on solutions.
That’s not to say some athletes aren’t already doing these things, but clearly more needs to be done—by everyone—to actually effect change. All of us can take those actions listed above, but the combined weight of some of the NBA’s most famous members could help take this cause to the next level.
I’m not asking for the likes of LeBron James and Gregg Popovich to do more because they haven’t been doing enough. Again, it’s not their responsibility to lead, it’s just that those who have been elected to do so aren’t making enough progress. It’s clear that some of the NBA’s most significant people are not at all afraid to speak their mind about gun control. What we’re desperate for now is for them and their peers to continue this fight.