LeBron James wants to make sure people know how to vote — including former felons who don’t even know they’re eligible.
The NBA star joined VICE TV’s “Stick to Sports” to discuss his work with More than a Vote, a coalition of Black artists and athletes working to push back against systemic voter suppression ahead of the 2020 election. Watch the whole interview in the premiere of “Stick to Sports” on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 10 p.m. on VICE TV.
“More than a Vote is not only about trying to get people in our community to actually go out and vote; it is also giving them the knowledge and the power and the mechanisms to know that they can create change. That's all we hear in the Black community all the time, saying we want change,” James told VICE.
“We've been lied to for so many years in the Black community, saying that we can't do this and we can't do that because we are so bottom-of-the-barrel,” he said. “Change starts at the very top when it comes to leadership, but it also is going to continue beyond November going into December and also into 2021.”
James specifically highlighted that many former felons can legally vote, but often don’t know it. Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be imprisoned.
“We have people that have had convictions in the past, that’ve been told they cannot vote because they got a conviction. That is voter suppression.”
“People in our community have been just lied to for so many years. We have people that have had convictions in the past, that’ve been told they cannot vote because they got a conviction. That is voter suppression,” James said. “That's what the call of action is all about when it comes to More than a Vote. It’s getting to these communities and letting them know that they matter.”
Many states automatically restore voting rights once former offenders complete their jail sentences, while others require people to complete parole and probation. But in 11 states, including the swing states of Arizona and Florida, there are still restrictions on which former felons are allowed to vote.
James has been politically active since President Obama’s first run for the White House, when he served as a celebrity surrogate. And he’s been increasingly vocal about his support for Black Lives Matter and other social movements in recent years — activism that has drawn scorn on the right, from Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s infamous “shut up and dribble” comments to attacks from President Trump himself.
As one of the NBA’s biggest stars and influencers, he’s played a major role in helping players politically organize — and make the NBA arguably the most visibly political major sports league.
James said he “for sure” would campaign for Joe Biden, Obama’s former vice president, between now and the election.
“What’s known doesn't need to be said,” he said about President Trump. “We are at a time where we need change. In order for change — it’s all about leadership, and leadership starts from the top.”
James laughed off questions about running for office himself once his basketball career concludes. But he said he was glad to see Jemele Hill and Cari Champion back on the air.
“Absolutely nothing like Black power, I’ll tell you that,” James said.
Cover: LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up prior to the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 5, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)