LeBron James has influence. A lot of influence. He knows this, and relishes it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does come with responsibility.
What he said in a preview clip for the latest episode of “The Shop,” his HBO sit-around-and-talk show, is irresponsible.
Talking about Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia, where she’s been imprisoned since February, James wondered aloud, “[She’s been there] over 110 days. Now how can she feel like America has her back? I would be feeling like, do I even want to go back to America?”
Here is why this so egregiously irresponsible: Griner has now been jailed more than 145 days. Based on the 110-day number LeBron throws out, that means the discussion on “The Shop” took place more than a month ago.
In the last month, Griner’s wife has received a phone call from both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that members of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow attended Griner’s latest court hearing and "delivered to her a letter from President Biden." White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated that Griner's release "is a priority for this president."
Earlier this week, ABC News reported that former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will head to Moscow to participate in talks to discuss the release of Griner along with fellow American Paul Whelan.
But maybe most importantly, in May the U.S. government classified Griner as "wrongfully detained," a classification without which the government does not get involved in negotiating a release. What's more, Blinken did so before Griner's case was decided in a Russian court, a move that Russian law experts Yahoo Sports spoke to called notable and unusual.
This all took place in the first four to five months of Griner’s detainment.
Meanwhile, Whelan, one of the more than 40 Americans classified as "wrongfully detained," has been in a Russian prison since December 2018. His family had not received a call from the White House until July 8, and only then after pressure mounted that Griner’s case was receiving more attention.
LeBron may not have known all of this at the taping of “The Shop," but he and his team should know it now, and yet they still released the preview of the upcoming episode as is. This cannot just be ignorance. It’s deliberate to stir a pot.
And so when LeBron tweeted out a quasi-explanation late Tuesday, after his words blew up, there were plenty of people there defending a false reality he created.
The reality is because of Griner’s high profile, her detainment has received a tremendous amount of attention that has led to calls for her release being pushed to the front of the line. If anyone should be wondering if America has their back, it’s Whelan, who was recently passed over in a prisoner swap that brought home another American, Trevor Reed, despite him being jailed for a shorter time than Whelan.
The other reality is that Griner is most certainly being used as a Russian pawn, a valuable asset for the Kremlin to gain something in return. This undoubtedly complicates her release and absolutely must be considered in any discussion of her continued imprisonment.
But LeBron doesn’t do that. Instead, he dumbs it down to “America not having her back” — a narrative that only further foments division in this country — and follows it up with a lame tweet that doesn't explain anything.
It’s irresponsible, more so because he and his team had time to get it right but chose not to. And now the episode will air Friday night and people will listen to LeBron saying America does not have Brittney Griner's back, when nothing could be further from the truth.
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