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Athletes and/or Activists: LeBron James and Black Lives Matter

As one of the world’s most recognizable athletes, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James is emblematic of the modern athlete-activist; as such, it is important to understand how the media frame him in the context of a controversial issue. In recent years, he has used it to quietly support the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by police on a Cleveland playground, just miles from where the Cavaliers play and just north of James’s hometown of Akron. James declined to comment on the case, and a Twitter campaign—#NoJusticeNoLeBron—attempted to force his hand. This article examines the role of James as an athlete-activist, identifying four frames embedded in content around James and the Black Lives Matter movement: Brand LeBron; Established Voice, Higher Expectations; Attention, Not Aggression; and Community Versus Protest. We found James is cautious and deliberate in his activism, moderating a message of consideration rather than revolution, contextualized by his brand and ambitions.