LeBron James and the Non-Existent Black Celebrity Support for Covid Vaccination

LeBron James may be the most famous person in the world. They used to say that about Michael Jordan. I’ll assume that mantle has been handed to LeBron. He’s certainly the most socially followed athlete in the U.S., or the entire world if you discount a couple of soccer stars. He’s a mega-NBA star, the star of a summer movie blockbuster, and a part-time docent at Nike’s slave labor camps in China. He even has his own Hollywood production company now. He trademarked Taco Tuesdays. He’s enormous. But is he vaccinated?


Close LeBron James watchers presume he got the shot. Largely due to how he was treated during the NBA Finals this past May and June in regard to isolation protocols from the NBA. LeBron kind of sort of implied he was. However, he intentionally complicated the matter when put to him in a direct question, did you get vaccinated, with this gobbledygook that leaves your girlfriend wondering if you just broke up with her:

“Anything I do off the floor is predicated to my family for the majority or 99.9 percent of that. It’s about the health and safety of my family. That’s what it came down to. Being available to my teammates on the floor is about taking care of my body and me doing everything I can to make sure I’m available both mentally, physically, and spiritually as well. But anything of that nature is all family talk.”

LeBron, speaking gibberish when asked a very specific question

Okay, so maybe yes, but definitely I can’t talk about it or confirm or deny it. Which is weird. Because many other celebrities in town have been crowing about getting their vaccine. It’s been a hotter trend than adopting a little kid from Malawi and making him change sexes. Many high-profile public figures have been involved in PSA’s or publicity campaigns for the Covid vaccine or social-bubbling up a virtue-signaling storm by calling out those who don’t. Jennifer Aniston went as far as to note how many people she has cut out of her life for being opposed to receiving the vaccine. No doubt she means easily replaceable housekeepers. She’s not alone. Pro-vax is clearly the dominant line in Los Angeles.

So why is LeBron talking like the spokesperson for Monsanto during a Round-Up Weed Killer legal proceeding when asked about the Covid vaccine?

You will often see the statistic cited that the majority of those still not vaccinated in the U.S. are white adults. Indeed, a full 57% of those who remain unvaccinated in this country are white adults. Okay, but 61% of adults in the U.S. are white. So white adults are actually over-vaccinated for their population ratio. Not by a ton, but over. While across the entire racial demographic, black and Hispanic populations remain under ratio as to vaccinations. The people most obsessed with making everything about race not-so-ironically have decided to ignore this racial disparity.

The relatively lower vaccination rates among black and Hispanic populations are notable because these minority groups have endured severely worse Covid fatality rates than white Americans. You can’t look merely at fatality rates across races. That’s a common mistake. Most Covid deaths occur in people over 75. Lifespans are longer for white Americans; the elderly population and certainly nursing homes where so many died are overrepresented by white people. Look at age-adjusted fatality rates. Meaning, look at all 30-year olds, or 50-year olds, across all races and see how they fared. When you do that, black and Hispanic people died at a far greater rate than white Americans of the same age. There are a large and complicated series of reasons for this discrepancy. That’s an essay for another day. But consider it in the context of these populations also tending relatively toward “anti-vax”. It begs the question of why.

White doctors and nurses from the CDC intentionally injecting black sharecroppers with placebos in the place of real medicine to see how syphilis would ravage the bodies of the test subjects. (Photo courtesy: Finding Your Roots)

Especially among black Americans, there is a history of distrust with the government, obviously dating back to legal slavery. But in the 20th century, more especially with government medical programs. Most famously driving this mistrust is the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, or as it was officially and secretly known at the time, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. In the study, the federal government, under the auspices of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), yes, that CDC, took 600 dirt-poor black men and enrolled them in a medical research program they assured them would provide them with free healthcare. But what they were really looking for was free human guinea pigs with latent syphilis to see what would happen if they left the infection untreated for years. The test subjects, of whom 2/3 tested positive with syphilis, were given placebos and fake medications to treat their illness, all the while being watched to see how many got gravely ill or died. Remarkably, the study went on for 40 years until it was exposed publicly in the 1970s. By then, many of the subjects had died, many had given their wives syphilis and their children as well via their wives. None of them were ever told. Talk about The Expendables.

The Tuskegee experiment is the most notorious instance of abusing minorities in social medial experiments, but not the only one. You can imagine when the CDC rolls around in the black community offering a new life-saving drug, there’s more than some suspicion based on very real historical experience. Add in the fact that black Americans are far more likely to be religious and regular churchgoers than the rest of the population, and you have another element that may be driving down vaccination rates. If you believe strongly that Jesus and your faith decide your fate, you may be less interested in letting experimental mRNA take the wheel. The same effect is apparent in the highly Catholic and related mysticism heavy recent Central American immigrant population. Deeply spiritual people, in general, are less likely to turn to science in a time of pandemics. Not a slight, but a fact.

Because there is no demographic population in America more disproportionately negatively affected by Covid, yet under-vaccinated, as Black Americans, you’d think there would be an outpouring of well-known, famous, and influential black men and women rushing to the front of the line to push vaccinations. Something akin to the comprehensive list of celebrities who showed up loud and proud for BLM and related social justice activist campaigns in 2020. People like, oh, LeBron James.

LeBron James is hardly alone in this absenteeism regard. Very few high-profile, mostly older, Black Americans like the Obamas, Al Roker, Kamala Harris, and Samuel L. Jackson got the vaccine early on and posed for the cameras; that quickly faded. You saw few to none hipper or younger black celebrities then following suit. When they trot out John Legend over and over again, you know the list is thin. Legend seems like a good dude, but let’s be honest, he’s the Mr. Reliable for the Establishment public messaging. I believe he’s earnest but spread pretty thin on the cause de jour drumline.

The same noticeable absence of black entertainers under the pro-vax banner is true for black athletes, who form the bulk of the players in the NFL and the NBA. Rumors in those leagues had many players refusing the vaccine; certainly few to none came out to promote people receiving the vaccine. Some stars like Lamar Jackson are taking suspensions in the preseason for showing up unvaccinated to training camp. Or as the NFL will officially put it, “undeclared”.

Oprah Winfrey posted an article on her own Oprah daily diary website about receiving the vaccine back in April. And a note about how she didn’t even see Gayle King, her Subrosa female cuddle buddy for a full year. Then Oprah went mum. Thankfully. With Serena Williams, good luck finding out her Covid vaccination status. We do know many tennis players have openly declared they will not be taking the vaccine due to a lack of trust.

Is Jay-Z vaccinated? Dunno. Denzel, Halle Berry, Michael Jordan, Will Smith, Tiger Woods? Can’t say. It does sound like I’m merely listing off super famous black people. Which is what I’m doing. These people have tremendous cred and reach in the black community and the larger world in general. Though not likely to move those Southern rednecks the media is effusively insisting are 99.99% of the decliners.

In 1956, a 21-year old Elvis Presley was riding high on four #1 hits, including Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel.

In 1956, Elvis Presley on the way up to stardom was famously vaccinated for polio on the Ed Sullivan national TV show. Polio was a bacterial infection predominantly affecting younger people, exposed to the bug while swimming in lakes and ponds. Polio caused death and even more widespread, paralysis to the lower limbs, which is why you see pictures of all those kids from that time in metal leg braces. And why F.D.R. was in a wheelchair. 1952 was one of the worst years on record. There was a huge push to get a hesitant nation injected with the Salk vaccine. In the highest-rated TV show ever, far larger than our Super Bowls of today, Presley took the polio vax on TV. This past December, with the vaccine about to be distributed, the Washington Post noted how Beyonce could do for the Covid vaccine what Elvis did for the polio vaccine with a high profile vaccination. She declined.

Hollywood Life recently assembled an article on celebrities who’ve publicly mentioned receiving the Covid vaccine. It’s hard not to notice the absence of many black celebrities. That doesn’t mean they aren’t being vaccinated. We’d have no idea. It merely means they aren’t talking about it publicly. Which seems kosher. It’s a private medical matter. Or ought to be. But hardly what you would classify as advocacy. Nobody is going to listen to your pro-vax message unless you’ve got the sore arm to prove your bona fides. That’s why Joe Biden revealed his old hairy arm to the nation to get his shot. So did Kamala Harris.

Still, Lebron James stands out. He’s arguably the most visible famous black celebrity who intentionally wears the mantle of the public commenter and social justice activist for the black community. He’s not shy about reaching out to his tens of millions of social media followers or using his massive press and publicity reach to make statements ranging from police violence against black Americans to quite oddly why the totalitarian CCP is the side to back in the Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong democratic protestors. He’s got thoughts. He shares them. He doesn’t mince words. And fair enough, he lives with the praise or criticism that follows. He sometimes cries or moans, but he takes it.

Depending on what source you cite, somewhere between 10 and 20 unarmed black men are killed by the police each year in America. Not to trivialize the number, or the heinous angry-cop crap Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd on the deck, but 95,528 black Americans have died from Covid to date. Like all other Covid deaths, many were inevitable and indeed took place prior to the vaccine availability. But how many could be saved via vaccination? Many thousands at least and still counting, when you factor in the dramatically lower Covid death rates for those fully vaccinated.

Again, not alone in the famous-person world, certainly not the black-famous-person world, but LeBron James is clearly dodging the vaccine question and any role in advocacy. Nobody knows precisely why, but it seems fairly obvious that “the mouth” has gone quiet on this topic for a calculated reason: the potential for alienating fans and customers. Lebron James is inching ever closer to that inevitable billion-dollar mark in net worth. Whatever you think about his personal intelligence, he’s not a business dummy. Or he’s advised by and listens to people who are quite consumer-savvy.

In the run-up to the vaccine release in December of 2020, only 38% of black Americans 18-44 expressed a plan to receive the vaccine when available. This was in that post-Thanksgiving 2020 period when cases in the U.S. were skyrocketing and death counts were following and the media and politicians were in hysterics. Remember, we weren’t supposed to gather with family and definitely not “sing loudly” during the holidays. CNN was bolding even its already large Impact font omnipresent Covid death count meter. This was the height perhaps of Covid fear, but only 38% polled said they were going to be vaccinated against Covid in this demo.

John Legend will show up for any corporate or government PSA, anywhere, anytime.

Now, the percentages of relatively younger people across the racial spectrum were less likely to be interested in the vaccine than their older generation. The elderly who were by far most at risk from Covid were more likely to want to be vaccinated. But 38% is really low. Alarmingly low. It shocked many pollsters and public health officials. But to people like LeBron, it was likely already well known. It’s his very group.

There would be nothing to be gained by LeBron to being publicly anti-vaccine. First, if he was himself vaccinated, he’d run the risk of being labeled a massive hypocrite. And even if personally he was not vaccinated, coming out staunchly against the vaccine would alienate the portion of the population who would think him irresponsible and off the reservation, most especially in the Hollywood world.

On the other side, being pro-vaccine in any manner similar to how strongly he comes out on other public issues of the day, given that paltry 38% favorable polling number, he would be alienating the very demographic he asserts to be speaking and fighting for. Not to mention the people who buy his Uighur-crafted shoes. The solution is plainly obvious. Say nothing. Or whatever the hell that word salad was he delivered on the topic. Fly below the radar. Hope nobody asks again. Deflect.

This isn’t meant as a criticism of LeBron James or anybody declining to publicly announce their vaccine status. As he rightly noted in his otherwise completely dismissive statement, that ought to be between him and his family. Not between himself and the public. This essay is meant more to note the blatantly unnoted. The only thing more obvious than LeBron’s dismissal of the topic of vaccines is the media’s willingness to give him a pass. How LeBron James thinks about any issue is a constant go-to on national trending topics. He was responsible in good measure for reshaping the entire NBA landscape in the summer of 2020. His thoughts and opinions on social justice for Black America were quoted constantly. The fact that he’s been massively mum on vaccines has been incredibly respected by the press, if not ignored completely intentionally. To the point that it’s weird. Like if a family member who recently got out of prison shows up to the family Christmas party and nobody asks him about it kind of weird.

To repeat ad nauseam, there’s no rule written or unwritten that LeBron James or any other black celebrity or influential person has to take up the call to have black Americans vaccinated against Covid. Not every battle has to be your battle. But you’d think the mightily heavily pro-vaccine media would raise some alarms about the absence of famous black voices on the matter, but they haven’t. Only a few generic articles early on explaining the generic hesitancy of black Americans to trust government medical programs. But nothing close to a calling out or even a basic highlighting of this quite apparent dearth of black celebrity vaccine activism. But no. Nothing. And nothing is always a strong signal of some kind.