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LeBron’s NFL Slavery Comments Struck A Nerve, But Don’t Blame The Messenger

LeBron James isn't the first to compare the NFL to actual slavery and he likely won't be the last.

There was a controversial statement by LeBron James while on HBO Sports’  The Shop that are causing quite the stir from those who become relevant through ill informed hot takes. Though the reactionary matter that it is currently reverberating off the internet echo chambers is nauseating, the conversation that frames the relationship between NFL players and owners in a deservedly scrutinous light.

While speaking with longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter, on an episode with guest stars Todd Gurley and modern mogul Ice Cube, the Los Angeles Lakers forward called NFL owners “old white men” and further stated their behaviors were reminiscent of slave owners.

“In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality,” James said in the conversation. “And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the f— I tell y’all to do. Or we get rid of y’all.’”

He further stated how this power structure reflects an inherent imbalance that is grossly in favor of owners.


“The players are who make the ship go,” James said. “Every Sunday, without Todd Gurley and without Odell Beckham Jr., without those players, those guys, there is no football. And it’s the same in the NBA.”


In comparison, James presented the far more player-centric NBA, which he says cares more for players.

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“What we believe (a player) can be, the potential. In the NFL, it’s what can you do for me this Sunday, or this Monday, or this Thursday. And if you ain’t it, we moving on.”

He also heaped a substantial amount of praise on Adam Silver as being the impetus for broadening thought processes around the NBA.


The Difference Between The NFL & NBA ft. LeBron James & Todd Gurley | The Shop | HBO

LeBron James and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley discuss the differences between the NBA and the NFL. An all-new episode of The Shop premieres Friday, December 21 at 10 pm. #TheShopHBO #LeBronJames #ToddGurley #HBO Subscribe to the HBO YouTube Channel: https://goo.gl/wtFYd7 Don’t have HBO?

“He doesn’t mind us having … a real feeling and to be able to express that. It doesn’t even matter if Adam agrees with what we are saying, he at least wants to hear us out. As long as we are doing it in a very educational, non-violent way, then he’s absolutely okay with it.”

As something of a caveat to some of our younger and less NBA knowledgeable fans, Adam Silver is a much more player-friendly commissioner than his predecessor, the snarky, often combative, somewhat authoritarian David Stern.

“I am very educated about what I believe in and I’m not doing it in a violent way,” James said. “I’m not knocking on your door saying, ‘Listen, I’m kneeling today and if you don’t kneel with me, I’ll knock you the f– out.’ But you know people go crazy when things are done outside the box. People don’t know how to react.”

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Of course, LeBron’s comments might be controversial because of the source, but others have been making the slavery comparison with the NFL owners and players for some time.

In 2011, Adrian Peterson made mention of that paradigm when speaking of the NFL lockout.

“It’s modern-day slavery, you know?” Peterson said at the time. “People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too. With all the money . . . the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money.”


Texans wide receiver Cecil Shorts once said: “Inmates, slaves and products. That’s all we are to the owners and others.”


And in the reactions of NFL ownership during the entirety of the national anthem/protest controversy, and alleged collusion against Colin Kaepernick, we see it yet again.

Announcers, particularly old-school announcers of African descent, absolutely loathe when the comparison is made, but the pictures it helps paint, one in which profit is farmed from the flesh and blood of the living, are ever more clear because of it.

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Perhaps because there’s not a more fitting comparison to be made in modern sports. Professional football has a very high percentage of soft tissue brain injury, CTE and Parkinson’s disease, yet most contracts are still non-guaranteed and the pot just keeps getting sweeter with every new TV deal.

So, while the media and team owners like to talk bad about players who take drastic measures in their own interests, like Le’Veon Bell, the owners cut players and do away with contracts pretty much when they want.


The players are indeed getting paid quite handsomely for their services, but no amount of money accumulated in two lifetimes would ever be enough when CTE or Parkinson’s come a-knockin’.

But, wait, that’s the part where owners and team doctors will say the science is inconclusive and more studies need to be undertaken. This, while the brains of once spectacular gridiron legends deteriorate within their very skulls as more and more commit suicide with notes begging for their mortal remains to be donated to science.

So please tell us again how slavery isn’t a proper metaphor for the NFL? Tell us again why LeBron’s words are controversial?