President Barack Obama applauded basketball star LeBron James for wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” protest T-shirt before a game last week.
“You know, I think LeBron did the right thing,” Obama told People magazine in an interview published Friday. “We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness.”
James wore the shirt, which shows support for Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died this summer after an NYPD officer put him in a banned chokehold, during warmups for a Cleveland Cavaliers-Brooklyn Nets game on Dec. 8.
A number of athletes in major league sports have worn shirts protesting the police-involved killings of black victims in recent weeks. Another Cleveland athlete, Browns football player Anthony Hawkins, was harshly criticized by the local police union for wearing a shirt that protested the deaths of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 22-year-old John Crawford III.
But the President told People that he’d like to see more athletes speak out on social and other issues the way James did.
“We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” he said. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.”