LeBron James has been named Sports Illustrated’s 2016 Sportsperson of the Year. He appears on this week’s cover wearing a white turtleneck and a sports coat with a safety pin on the left lapel.
The political fashion statement gained steam after November’s presidential election. From the New York Times:
After the election of Donald J. Trump, fears are growing that segments of his base may physically or emotionally abuse minorities, immigrants, women and members of the L.G.B.T. community. As a show of support, groups of people across America are attaching safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to signify that they are linked, willing to stand up for the vulnerable.
Lee Jenkins’ profile of James, a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton, describes how the Cleveland Cavaliers spent election night.
Two days later, James and his wife stayed up until 4 a.m., watching the state and the country choose Donald Trump. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have my father, so you looked up to people in positions of power,” James says. “It could be athletes or actors or leaders, like presidents. I think parents could use some of those people as role models. But when we elect a president who speaks in a disrespectful way a lot, I don’t know that we can use him in our household.” The next morning, James and Savannah ate breakfast, before the Cavaliers flew to D.C. for their championship ceremony with President Barack Obama. “I think we’re going to have to do more,” he told his wife. “I think we’re going to have to step it up more.”
This was the year of athlete activism, and James honored the greatest of all, donating $2.5 million to support a Muhammad Ali exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. James reveres Ali, as a revolutionary as much as a fighter, and feels a responsibility to speak out when stirred. He voices an opinion on virtually every subject reporters ask him about, from police brutality to NFL ratings. But his form of engagement differs from Colin Kaepernick’s, and for that matter, Ali’s. “I understand protests, but I think protests can feel almost riotous sometimes, and I don’t want that,” James says. “I want it to be more about what I can do to help my community, what we can do so kids feel like they’re important to the growth of America, and not like: ‘These people don’t care about us.’ I’m not here to stomp on Trump. We’re here to do our part, which starts in the place we grew up, street by street, brick by brick, person by person.”
James has previously used his attire for activism, most namely when he and other NBA stars wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts after Eric Garner’s death. Sports Illustrated pointed to this active voice as one of the factors in his selection.
His choice to wear a safety pin for the picture is a subtle message, which many readers may miss, but it’s telling that he’d choose to use this platform to send it.