LeBron James shook the entire world on Christmas Eve when he posted an Instagram picture seemingly downplaying the severity of COVID-19.
The photo, which featured the infamous Spider-Man meme, compared the Coronavirus to the common cold or flu.
For some, the picture was hilariously accurate and a perfect way to sum up the current crisis. For others, the photo was wildly misinformed and even dangerous.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar falls in the latter, and he expressed his views on it in a recent article.
LeBron James is not only one of the greatest basketball players ever, he’s committed to being a leader in the African American community in the fight against inequality. But his Thursday Instagram meme showing three cartoon Spider-Men pointing at each other—one labeled “covid,” one labeled “flu,” one labeled “cold”—with his message: “Help me out folks” was a blow to his worthy legacy. The meme’s implication is that LeBron doesn’t understand the difference among these three illnesses, even after all the information that’s been presented in the press. Well, since he asked, let me help him out by explaining the difference—and how knowing that difference might save lives, especially in the Black community.
To directly address LeBron’s confusion, no one thinks colds and the flu aren’t serious. In the 2019-2020 flu season, 400,000 people were hospitalized and 22,000 people died. In 2020, 385,428 people died of COVID-19, while so far in 2021, 423,558 have died in the U.S., for a total of 808,986 deaths. Experts agree that COVID-19 is at least 10 times more lethal than the flu. As for the common cold, death is extremely rare.
However, LeBron, if you’re concerned about the flu, then help promote the flu vaccination. In the 2019-2020 flu season, only 51.8% in the U.S. were vaccinated, well below the 70% that is the target. Worse, the vaccination rate is 20% lower among Blacks than whites and as a result they have the highest hospitalization rate due to flu of any other group. This is due to vaccination hesitancy that your meme promotes.
One way to help the Black community to overcome their hesitancy and save lives is for prominent Black celebrities and influencers to continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and their boosters. Immunization, whether from vaccines or having had the disease, lessens over time and makes people vulnerable for reinfection.
While LeBron is a necessary and dynamic voice critical of police brutality against the Black community, he needs to be the same necessary and dynamic advocate with vaccines, which could save thousands of Black lives right now. The racism is just as real—and just as lethal—in both cases.
The COVID pandemic hasn't been easy on anyone. Many have gotten sick, many have lost their lives, and many more have been forced into isolation. LeBron James is likely no stranger to any of that.
Still, he hasn't exactly been very vocal about encouraging public health and safety about this virus, and it seems now we know why.
Whether or not you agree with James' assessment of the situation, it is true that millions of fans look to him as an example. And for a guy who has such a strong record of doing the right thing and staying out of controversy, he is certainly raising more than a few eyebrows about his current stance on the COVID outbreak.