Last week I was on vacation when news broke about “LeBron James’s school” opening in Akron, Ohio. So I wasn’t on social media or watching much television. I did see that CNN sent Don Lemon for a sit-down interview with LeBron and ESPN sent Rachel Nichols for one and even the Wall Street Journal had a piece this morning about how amazing LeBron James is for paying for a school. Essentially every major media organization, and many of their employees, fell all over themselves to praise LeBron James as Mahatma Gandhi in sneakers.
So call me crazy, but I assumed LeBron James was funding the entire school in Akron all by himself.
This isn’t uncommon, plenty of rich people have founded entire schools and paid for all of their expenses.
So would it surprise you to find out that the city of Akron’s taxpayers are actually paying for 75-80% of the school and its yearly expenses? We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first let’s return to the rapturous in the extreme media coverage of LeBron James. But that exceedingly positive, dare I even say saint-like, media coverage extended into outright hero worship the moment Donald Trump took a shot at LeBron late on Friday night.
The late night Friday Tweet was vintage Trump, wacky, outlandish, coming just before midnight and mixing in a hodge-podge of insults and random non sequitors.
I didn’t think Trump’s Tweet was that great, personally I wish he’d simply Tweeted, “I’ve always been a Jordan guy,” along with a picture of Jordan’s six Chicago Bulls title rings compared to LeBron’s three title rings with two teams. That would have been funny — look, the president is debating Jordan vs. LeBron too! — and it would have also been subtle.
Something that is, you know, not exactly a part of the Trump insult repertoire.
But was it remotely surprising? Of course not.
And was it an attack? Of course not. LeBron has been ripping Trump for nearly two years.
What’s more Lebron hasn’t just ripped Trump, he’s ripped anyone who voted for Trump.
LeBron said Trump’s supporters were uneducated. Well, let me rephrase, actually LeBron said Trump’s supporters was uneducated.
Ah, yes, it’s always great when you insult the intelligence of others by using the wrong grammar yourself.
LeBron also said Trump’s voters had made a mistake in voting for him and compared it to giving his daughter too many Skittles.
“No matter whether you voted for him (Trump) or not, you may have made a mistake and that’s OK, if you voted for him. It’s OK. I’ve done things for my daughter and realized I shouldn’t have gave my daughter that many damn Skittles. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”
Now if you were reading these quotes would you think to yourself — these sound like the opinions of an intellectual heavyweight in the world of politics? I can definitely see Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson using broken Skittles metaphors as they debated the issues of the day during the founding of our nation.
After all, who among us could forget that memorable debate line Abraham Lincoln dropped about Stephen Douglas being as reliable as a Snickers in a hot car? Personally, I’ve always thought it was that line that got Lincoln the Republican presidential nomination in 1860.
Now I’m not trying to sugar code this — a phrase Lebron memorably Tweeted when he meant to say, sugar coat — but I don’t think LeBron is this generation’s FDR. Hell, I’m not even sure he’s this generation’s Manute Bol since, Bol, you know, actually funded and built a school himself.
But that wasn’t all LeBron said.
LeBron also personally insulted the president, calling him a bum.
But it’s okay, LeBron said that wasn’t an insult.
“I didn’t name-call,” James said. “‘Bum.’ Me and my friends call each other that all the time.”
So you and the president are friends now?
The point of all these quotes is pretty simple — LeBron has been attacking the president and his supporters for over a year. So, if anything, Donald Trump, who hasn’t found a man, woman, gay or straight person, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American (maybe) man or woman he can’t insult, was actually pretty restrained when it came to LeBron. Trump didn’t attack him out of nowhere.
After years of taking shots he just finally decided to counterattack Lebron.
Now you can argue this is beneath the office of the presidency to do so, but Trump’s entire political life has been about demonstrating to everyone that nothing is beneath him. He disrupts everything, including expectations of basic presidential decency. Honestly, it’s his brand, why he got elected. If anything, ripping LeBron in a Tweet sent near midnight was the most predictable and on-brand move Trump could have possibly made.
In the wake of Trump’s Tweet for the next several days the sports media rallied around LeBron James, trumpeting “his school” and the fact that he was paying over $40 million for “his college scholarships.” They also, predictably, said Trump’s Tweet was racist because everyone knows if a white guy insults a black guy even if that black guy had previously insulted him and all of his supporters for years it’s completely unjustified and racist.
So in the wake of this imbroglio I decided to look into LeBron’s charity. And by “look into LeBron’s charity” I mean Google who is paying for LeBron’s school? That’s all the research I had to do.
So what did I find?
Well, thanks to the reporters at Cleveland.com, what I found was actually pretty staggering. It turns out that “LeBron’s school” was mostly being paid for by Akron, Ohio taxpayers. According to the article these Akron, Ohio taxpayers bear the cost for 75 or 80% of the school in all the years ahead.
The fact that most of the public wasn’t aware of this, well, that was a detail that was starting to upset some of the officials in Akron.
“It’s a district-owned building. The district will hire and pay the teachers and administration. Kids will ride district buses to school. And they will all eat the free breakfast and lunch the district gives all students.
I Promise will eventually cost about $8 million a year to run out of the district’s regular budget, covered mostly by shifting students, teachers and money from other schools, the district says.
“The coverage made it look like the whole thing is his,” said district spokesman Mark Williamson. “He did a lot, but taxpayers should know it’s their investment too.”
In fact, LeBron’s foundation, remember, it’s not LeBron himself, it’s his foundation, which solicits donations from other individuals and companies to do his charitable work, is only on the hook for $500,000 a year for the next several years. (Eventually it could climb to $2 million as the school grows, but that will still be a small part of the overall school cost at that point.)
According to Forbes Magazine last year LeBron made $85.5 million.
Even if we give LeBron credit for all of that yearly money coming out of his own pocket that means LeBron’s committing .0058 of his yearly income on “his school.”
That’s the equivalent of someone making $50,000 a year donating $292 a year to charity.
Put another way, if you make $50,000 a year and put $10 a week in the charity plate at church, you’d be donating $520 a year of your income to “your church.” Which is nearly twice what LeBron will be donating to “his school.”
On top of that LeBron has also gotten credit for donating over $40 million to fund college scholarships at the University of Akron. In fact, if you google LeBron and college scholarships every major media entity in the country has an article about this praiseworthy donation.
Here’s the most basic results for a “LeBron James college scholarship” search on Google. As you can see, every major news organization in the country has reported that LeBron himself will be putting thousands of kids through college and is committing at least $40 million to the endeavor.
Only…it’s actually the University of Akron paying for the scholarships, not LeBron.
So why in the world did LeBron get credit for donating over $40 million in college scholarships when the university is actually picking up the bill? (Some outlets even gave LeBron credit for donating $87 million or over $100 million.)
Because the sports media was lazy.
It’s a good story, but it’s not remotely true.
Indeed, remember, even the limited amount LeBron is donating isn’t coming directly from LeBron, it’s coming from his foundation which is, honestly, tiny.
The LeBron James Foundation, according to the most recent tax filings, has $1.8 million in assets and had total revenue of $3.5 million. Again, this isn’t all of LeBron’s money because he’s accepting charity donations from companies and other individuals.
So let’s be generous and say that $2 million of this in the past year is from LeBron.
LeBron is worth, reportedly, $500 million.
This means LeBron is putting .004 of his assets into this charitable foundation every year.
If you were making $50,000 a year, this would be the equivalent of putting $200 a year into your foundation.
That’s the kind of charity that cost kings their heads back in olden times in Europe.
Okay, some of you are likely screaming, “WHY ARE YOU CRITICIZING HIM?”
I’m not. At all. LeBron can do whatever he wants with his money, it’s his, he earned it.
But I do think facts like these matter when it comes to lionizing someone for greatness.
And don’t you think it’s strange that no one else in the entire sports media actually bothered to do this work? Not anyone at CNN when Don Lemon interviewed him for a primetime special? Not anyone at ESPN when Rachel Nichols interviewed him for a primetime special? Not any of the countless Lebron defenders on social media who immediately took umbrage at Donald Trump’s Tweet and defended James as among the most generous athletes in the history of the world. (How could Trump send this Tweet THIS week was one of their favorite lines).
LeBron seems to be a good dad, he’s been a good role model to kids and stayed out of trouble throughout his career. Plus, he’s an outstanding basketball player. But what he’s best at is getting attention. And he’s even better at getting positive attention, laced with zero skepticism. How else to explain the fact that LeBron could have an alleged racial slur painted on the gate of his Los Angeles mansion gate — a year later according to the Los Angeles police there is no evidence it ever happened — and have virtually no one question the slur or his outrageous comparison of himself to Emmett Till? How else to explain how LeBron James can play in Equality sneakers — made overseas by virtual slave laborers who would have to work for two months to pay retail price for one pair of his shoes — and have no one else question it at all?
The sports media’s job, in my opinion, should be to speak truth to power.
Otherwise, why do we exist?
LeBron James is on track to be a billionaire and regularly attacks the president of the United States as part of his woke political platform. He’s probably the most powerful athlete in America today.
Yet he just received an entire week of fawning media coverage for his charitable donations — on top of the years worth of prior coverage for “his college scholarships” — and no one has actually bothered to do the research on his foundation before now to see what he’s actually paying.
Because when you actually look at the facts here, LeBron is receiving credit as if he’s the most generous athlete in American history. Yet based on the share of his income he’s actually donating, I doubt LeBron is even in the top 1000 most generous athletes in this country.
Be like Mike?
Ultimately the truth is this, the sports media blew it on this LeBron story because they wanted the story to be true and because they wanted to preserve their access to a superstar. Both of these are glaring flaws. The fact that no one else is writing about it, shows just how far from the truth most stories you hear in sports every day often are.
Especially when they involve superstars in leagues ESPN wildly overpaid for.