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LeBron James says there’s a double standard in reporters asking about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones' photo

The photo captured Jones among a white mob in 1957 preventing Black students from entering a segregated high school they attended.
LeBron James in Denver
LeBron James in Denver on Oct. 26. David Zalubowski / AP file

NBA legend LeBron James has called out reporters for what he described as a double standard in the way they cover Black athletes.

During a post-game press conference Wednesday following the Los Angeles Lakers game against the New Orleans Pelicans, he said his former teammate and Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving was subjected to increased scrutiny and coverage after he posted a link to an antisemitic film that led to his recent suspension without pay. The volume of coverage and criticism, James said, was unfair because Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, 80, has not experienced the same firestorm for a 1957 photo of him as a 15-year-old among a white mob preventing six Black students from entering a segregated high school in Arkansas.

The photo first came to light Nov. 23 when The Washington Post published it in an article detailing the backstory of the picture and how Jones’ great legacy may be tainted because he has yet to hire a Black NFL head coach. Previously, it was widely unknown that Jones was present at the protest.

“I was wondering why I haven’t gotten a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo,” James said to the room of reporters. “But when the Kyrie thing was going on, you guys were quick to ask us questions about that.” 

Some reporters in the room began interrupting James, but he rebuffed them with, “I don’t want you guys to say nothing.”

James said not talking about the Jones photo was similar to burying history.

“I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things we’ve been through and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America,” he said.

He also questioned why the Jones photo didn’t receive the same attention and scrutiny from reporters that Irving’s actions did.

“It seems like to me the whole Jerry Jones situation, photo — and I know it was years ago and we all make mistakes, I get it. But it seems like it’s just been buried under like ‘Oh, it happened,’ OK. We just move on. And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

However, reporters did ask about Jones’ photo during a post-game conference Nov. 24 following the Cowboys win over the New York Giants.

Defiant white students at Arkansas' North Little Rock High School block the doors of the school, denying access to six Black students enrolled in the school, on Sept. 9, 1957.
Defiant white students at Arkansas' North Little Rock High School block the doors of the school, denying access to six Black students enrolled in the school, on Sept. 9, 1957. William P. Straeter / AP

“That was, gosh, 65 years ago, a curious kid,” Jones said according to NBC’s local station in Fort Worth, Texas. “I didn’t know at the time the monumental event, really, that was going on and I’m sure glad that we’re a long way from that. I am. And that would remind me just to continue doing everything we can to not have those kinds of things happen.”

Representatives for Jerry Jones did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

Kazeem Famuyide, the co-host of “MSG PM,” which is shown after home games of the New York Knicks, said Jones' explanation of the photo is far less than what Irving had to do to make amends.

“I knew nothing was going to come of it,” Famuyide said. “He’s the most visible owner in sports. He has his own radio show that he does every single week. He doesn’t hide from the media. So, it wasn’t like there wasn’t an opportunity for anybody to ask him about this. And when they did ask him about it, he just kind of chalked it up to ... ‘Well, you know, I was 14 years old and I was curious, and I know I look bad, but you know, whatever, whatever.’ And it just kind of was over and done with."

Famuyide said he found it "odd and peculiar" that the same sort of demands that were asked of other people weren't asked of Jones. “No one’s gonna ask him to go and spend hours with Black community groups and publicly have to denounce racism and publicly apologize,” he said referring to Irving’s apology tour before he could play again.

During the press conference, James also addressed the pressure he has felt from the media to meet an unattainable standard.

“As a Black man, as a Black athlete — as someone who has power and a platform — when we do something wrong, or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage, it’s on the bottom ticker, it’s asked about every single day.”

For those reasons, Famuyide said, “It’s been difficult for a lot of folks that were a little hesitant to jump all over Kyrie for what happened because we know that if the shoe was on the other foot, especially when it comes to another race, that same energy is never kept.”

Following James' comments, fans have taken to Twitter to react and debate whether the two can be compared.

“Not always on the same page as @KingJames, but this has to be the most well thought out statement he ever made. Personally, I think it’s as simple as the media fears team owners and thinks the players are fair game. Smh,” one Twitter user said under the video.

“Maybe because Jerry sat down and did a 2.5 he interview about how he’s changed since then (what 55 years ago?),” one person tweeted in response to the video.

“Maybe it’s because Kyrie was his teammate and they play the same sport? Don’t remember LeBron being a member of the Cowboys or playing in the NFL,” another person tweeted.

A fourth person wrote, “for those asking why they would ask Lebron…. 1. He’s ALWAYS asked about his stance on things outside of his sport and so on and 2. He is a die hard cowboys fan so I’m sure they would ask the billionaire fan/athlete about the billionaire owner of his favorite team.”

James’ example of what he describes as a double standard comes on the heels of criticism regarding Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka’s suspension for allegedly violating team policies that became more of a focal point than former NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre's involvement in the the Mississippi welfare scandal.

“It always seems like when Black people slip up, or Black men specifically slip up, there's much more of a coming down," Famuyide said. "There's much more of a harsher punishment for us."