Basketball star LeBron James has accused Donald Trump of using sports to exploit racial divisions in America in an explosive interview with CNN.
“When you're part of sports, it brings so much comradery and so much fun,” James told Don Lemon. “We are in a position right now, in America where this whole race thing has taken over. I believe our president is trying to divide us. He is dividing us. And what I've noticed over the last few months [is[ that he's used sport to divide us, and that's something that I can't relate to."
James was speaking to Lemon after the opening of his I Promise school in Akron, Ohio. James has poured millions of dollars from his personal fortune into the school project.
James went on to reference Trump's aggressive interventions on athletes making silent protests against racial inequality by taking a knee during the national anthem. The President has said players who do so should be fired.
James spoke about the importance of sport to him personally when it came to meeting people of other races as a child.
"Sports was the first time I was ever around someone white. I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got the opportunity to learn about me and we became very good friends and I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is all because of sports.'”
When Lemon asked what specifically he had noticed, James smiled and said, “They ate dinner at a different hour…supper at 6:30 in the afternoon, that was the afternoon to me.”
He also remembered his shock at learning his white friends went to bed by 8pm, saying “there was none of that” in his house.
James also remarked on his surprise at seeing food stored in a pantry in white families’ houses.
"For me, everything where I grew up was on top of the refrigerator," he explained.
He said that he felt the white families he visited “lived with no care and no worry,” and he was inspired by these interactions to hope for a similar atmosphere in his own family life.
Queried on what he'd say to Trump were the President positioned before him, he said, "I would never sit across from him."
James also said that Trump’s presidency has made overt racism more acceptable.
Speaking about an incident where racist abuse was spray-painted on his gate last year, James said, “No matter how big you become, no matter how successful you are, no matter what you do in the community or what you do in your profession, being African-American in America is always tough.
“They are always going to let you know that you are the N-word, no matter who you are. That was just a reset.”
He added: “It’s always been there but the president in charge has given people … they don’t care now, they throw it in your face now.”
Of experiencing prejudice, James said: “You allow it to affect you and degrade you—or empower you even more and rise above it.”
James said Trayvon Martin's 2012 killing was a catalyst for his own increasing involvement in social justice campaigns.
“It starts with the Trayvon Martin situation and the reason it starts with that, I believe, is having kids of my own, boys of my own, it hit home for me to see and to hear the story. To think if my boy left home and he never returned—that hit a switch for me," he said.
“From that point on, I knew my voice and my platform had to be used for more than just sports.
“I can't sit back and not say nothing.”