“Branded Activism” BY: Brittany Somerville LeBron James and Derrick Rose are undeniably two amazing athletes. However, one is apparently more of a household name than the next. Recently both have been in headlines for wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts in an effort to make a statement about the recent Eric Garner case. Eric Garner was a black man who died this past August after being place in an illegal chokehold by a NYPD officer. Police attempted to arrest the suspect for allegedly selling cigarettes on the street. During the arrest, Garner wasn’t able to breathe. He attempted to inform the arresting officers several times by stating his last words: “I can’t breathe.”
In a simple Google search of Rose and the shirt and James and the shirt, headlines even appeared differently. When searching for Rose, headlines were along the lines of: “Derrick Rose of Chicago Bulls wears ‘ I Can’t Breathe’ shirt” or “Derrick Rose explains why he wore ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirt.” On the other hand, James’ headlines read as: “James again demonstrates social conscience,” “Obama praises LeBron,” or “President Obama endorses LeBron.” It appears like LeBron was the leader of the pack. Even President Obama, a self-proclaimed Chicago Bulls fan and someone who began their career in Chicago, didn’t mentioned Derrick Rose for his stand, but praised James. Obama told People Magazine: “You know, I think LeBron did the right thing…We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves. LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention. I’d like to see more athletes do that…Not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.” But what about D.Rose? It clearly didn’t matter who was first; unfortunately, it mattered which person carried the more powerful brand.
After a tumultuous year with the black community, police relations and government relations, the recent decision to not indict the officer responsible for Garner’s death caused even more outrage in the community. Just last month, Derrick Rose was the first to spark the “I can’t breathe” t-shirt movement among athletes. However, most credit LeBron James for leading the movement While both should be applauded for the silent, yet powerful, social justice gesture, it’s interesting to see how Rose’s initial gesture was overlooked.
While major brands like Jordan or Magic Johnson have yet to take a stand, a probably will never take a stand, individual brands can be just as powerful. At the end of the day, business is about money. Major brands are likely to take a much larger hit for taking a stand on an issue than an individual brand. Money isn’t black or white, it’s green. Some may expect brands like Jordan and Johnson to make a statement, but business isn’t always the appropriate arena for politics and commentary on social issues and social injustice. Athletes like D.Rose, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving, Reggie Bush, their team members and more, who wore the now infamous t-shirts or made some type of gesture related to the recent police cases can afford to make a statement. Whether an individual brand or company brand did or didn’t make a statement, it’s great to see black athletes take a stand on situations were they could have been a victim or their son, brother, uncle, father or even grandfather could have been a victim.