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What Laura Ingraham’s attack on LeBron James really means

The comments are the latest in a long history of black athletes being told to stick to sports and just shut up and play

Fox News host Laura Ingraham responded on Thursday to recent comments made by NBA players LeBron James and Kevin Durant about President Donald Trump by embarking on a two-minute, racially-tinged rant about the players’ intelligence and their (lack of) First Amendment rights as professional athletes.

On her nightly cable news show The Laura Ingraham Show, the conservative host said comments made by James on his Uninterrupted website, in which the 14-time NBA All-Star said Trump “doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a f— about the people,” were “barely intelligible,” “ungrammatical” and, ironically enough, “ignorant.”

While this sort of conservative firebrand rhetoric is nothing new to Fox News, the comments by Ingraham ring especially hypocritical and hollow for the network and one of its lead hosts when attacking a celebrity like James.

Ingraham called it “unwise” for children (the fictional children who watch late-night cable news) to seek political advice from someone who “gets paid $100 million a year” — James makes $33 million per season with the Cleveland Cavaliers — “to bounce a ball,” completely disregarding her own company’s long-documented history of putting athletes and other nonpolitical “experts” on its air.

As Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long pointed out on Twitter on Friday morning, Fox News has welcomed the likes of Curt Schilling (athlete), Bob Knight (basketball coach), Kid Rock (musician), Ted Nugent (another musician), Chuck Norris (actor), and Fabio Lanzoni (guy with hair) to discuss issues ranging from climate change to health care without once questioning their qualifications. ESPN’s own Stephen A. Smith, a sports broadcaster, has been invited on the network numerous times.

And as far as black athletes, former NFL running backs Jim Brown and Herschel Walker have made appearances in the last year, and current NFL player Benjamin Watson was just on morning show Fox & Friends on Tuesday to discuss Trump.

What did all these supposed “experts” all have in common: they all, in the moment at least, agreed with Ingraham and Fox News’ politics. (Except Watson, who sided with Eagles players who have decided to not visit Trump’s White House, yet you wouldn’t be able to tell by how the network publicized the remarks.)

Ingraham’s comments are the latest in a long history of black athletes being told to stick to sports and just shut up and play — she quoted an anonymous philosopher who supposedly once said “shut up and dribble” — when the athletes were only fighting for basic human decency and respect. Never mind what was said about Muhammad Ali being a “transcendent” colorblind fighter when he died in 2016; most of (white) America hated the loud-mouthed, flamboyant black man who refused to fight in Vietnam.

The same can be said of Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who joined Jim Brown in supporting Ali), and Tommie Smith and John Carlos, whom famed football announcer Brent Musburger called “black-skinned storm troopers” for their podium protest at the 1968 Olympics. Colin Kaepernick is the right’s current punching bag.

James and Durant, in Ingraham’s eyes, should be grateful for being given the opportunity to make millions of dollars as professional athletes, disregarding their own pulled-up-from-the-bootstraps origins in Akron, Ohio, and Prince George’s County, Maryland, respectively. Neither man had much growing up nor had their fathers in their lives. Through hard work and dedication to a single craft, they became the best in the world in their profession.

Ingraham criticized James for, during his junior year of high school, petitioning the NBA to allow him to declare for the draft early, bypassing his senior year entirely. According to Ingraham, there’s something unbecoming and unseemly about identifying an ungodly talent at 17 years old and not seeing the purpose of finishing high school or attending college when millions of dollars await right away. Never mind that the current president has prioritized vocational schools over universities, a majority of Republicans (Fox News’ target audience) believes colleges have a “negative effect on the way things are going in the country,” Ingraham’s own lead-in, Sean Hannity, doesn’t hold a college degree, or that former President Barack Obama was once called a “snob” for wanting all Americans to go to college.

Without (formal) postsecondary education, James, by age 25, had won two league MVP awards, led the league in scoring, was a six-time All-Star, and dragged the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. By 25, Ingraham was an assistant in the Reagan White House, driving a busted Honda (James, at 18, had a Hummer), likely still paying off her school loans. Please clap.

Despite pulling a “you people” — “must they run their mouths like that” she incredulously asked her audience on Thursday — while referring to James and Durant, questioning James’ intelligence (he’s widely considered the smartest person, not just player, in the NBA), and all around blowing her dog whistle like a trumpet, Ingraham will likely denounce any accusations of racism that will come her way.

She’ll claim that she doesn’t have a racist bone in her body, that she adopted a baby girl from Guatemala, has had black guests on her television and radio programs (she had Mark Fuhrman on in the middle of Black History Month, for what it’s worth), and once clerked for Clarence Thomas, only the second black Supreme Court justice.

But that will fall on deaf ears outside of the Fox News bubble, due to her once referring to affirmative action policies as “shafting people who are not of the appropriate color, or background, or ethnicity,” and accusing African-Americans of only voting for Obama because he was black (which begs the question why so many white people voted for Trump).

In defense of Trump against accusations of racism, Ingraham used heavy air quotes around the word “racist” when referring to James’ comments, this in the face of the commander-in-chief’s assorted history of making controversial comments about African-Americans, including ones made public on Friday in The New Yorker: a “British Broadcasting Corporation” sexual stereotype of black men.

But when you take out race completely, it appears Ingraham is just jealous of James. She was told by Apple Care that working hard, going to the right schools and knowing the right people is the key to success — the American dream. But here came this black man who didn’t care to finish high school and now dwarfs her in salary (before being given her own show, Ingraham made $2 million a year as a contributor), stature (she isn’t even the most popular host on her own network), and reach: James has 40.7 million Twitter followers (his “u bum” insult of Trump was liked nearly 1.5 million times) to Ingraham’s 2 million.

Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals between James’ Cavaliers and Durant’s Golden State Warriors had nearly 25 million viewers, 10 times that (2.5) of The Laura Ingraham Show on Feb. 14.

At the end of her dismissive commentary, Ingraham acknowledged that the pair are great players, but that no one voted for them. Instead, she said, “millions elected Trump to be their coach.” No mention of the nearly 3 million more people who voted for his opponent.

How unwise of her.

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"