“Must they run their mouths like that?” she spat, the condescension dripping from her mouth. It sounded like a parent bemoaning a misbehaving child or perhaps a president complaining about fake news media. Surely, whoever had run their mouth must have said something awful. Right?
Fox News host Laura Ingraham began a segment a few days ago by announcing, “This is a jumb dock alert, ding ding ding ding ding!” The error in speech was hers. Ingraham is a conservative political commentator and host who decided she needed to reprimand LeBron James for calling out the President of the United States, Donald Trump. Much love to LeBron for speaking out against Trump, but he didn’t really say anything new or, to be honest, inflammatory. LeBron said Trump doesn’t “give a f*ck” about the people. Ingraham took issue with James’ comments in a racist and unfounded way. Allow me to explain.
Ingraham found James’ commentary to be “barely intelligible, not to mention ungrammatical,” although she had no trouble understanding exactly the point that James made. Might I suggest to Ingraham that she takes a minute to look up African American Vernacular English. Hopefully, she would discover that James’ language use was, in fact, grammatical in AAVE, a language that black Americans developed as a result of centuries of oppression and lack of access to Western schooling in our country. But wait, it gets better.
“There might be a cautionary lesson in LeBron for kids,” Ingraham goes on to warn. “This is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA.” Oh boy. First of all, Ms. Ingraham, LeBron didn’t attempt to leave high school a year early. He graduated high school and then went to the NBA.
Second of all, he didn’t “attempt.” LeBron is one of the all-time great and most accomplished athletes, ever. I wish Ingraham would’ve stopped there, but she just kept digging: “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid 100 million dollars a year to bounce a ball.” What supposed political advice did LeBron offer? That a president should care about the people he’s leading? I wouldn’t call that advice as much as common sense. And to top it off, James doesn’t get paid $100 million to bounce a ball. He gets paid just under $31 million to run an offense, be a nearly unguardable scorer, basically coach his team on the floor and represent his franchise to its city and the media. (In theory, he also gets paid to play defense, but he hasn’t done much of that this season.) I imagine that job is a bit more challenging than hosting a radio show.
Let me be clear: I do not think everything LeBron says is great or accurate or important. The guy knows how to manipulate media and has done so to his advantage multiple times, at the expense of teammates, GMs and owners. He’s not exactly the torchbearer for social justice in our generation. That said, his views are valid.
If Ingraham wanted to detract from James’ commentary thoughtfully, perhaps she could’ve commented how he makes so much money that he is out of touch with working class Americans (this take, though, is problematic given that James grew up poor to a single mother in Akron). Or, she could’ve tried an intricate argument about how cursing and insulting the president without being specific about what he’s doing wrong or what he should do better is not the most constructive statement. But Ingraham didn’t do that. Instead, she began by calling him a “jumb dock.”
Like a parent commiserating with other parents about whiny children, she asked her audience, in relation to athletes making common sense observations: “Must they run their mouths like that?” Ingraham does have both a college and graduate degree, things James does not possess, and she makes a living thinking about and talking politics. If she wants to wield her educational prowess, she better use her skills to do due diligence. Her description of James’ comments and her ensuing insults were careless, racist and on multiple fronts flat-out wrong. If Ingraham can’t adequately understand and characterize James’ views, what credence should she get?
It’s fine to insult LeBron. I do it all the time. What isn’t fine is to make assumptions based on his race and his job and to then disqualify him from public discourse because of those assumptions. Trump is often unintelligible and ungrammatical, and he had no background in government before running for president. Yet here we are, listening to what he says. It is fitting that Ingraham began her spiel trying to denigrate athletes and tripping over her own tongue. A measure of humility would serve her well. Maybe those “docks” aren’t the only “jumb” ones.
Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu.