WHEN LeBron James made the much-anticipated announcement that he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after a four-year stint with the Miami Heat, his decision was met by an array of hoorays and boos, of excited Tweets welcoming him home, and still by others who hollered in disbelief.
Four years ago James’ decision to ride his wave of success to Miami, left plenty of angry fans in his wake. Fans, who, openly burned his jersey. Even majority owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, penned a rather scathing portrait (in Comic Sans) of his former employee in what is known as “The Letter,” where Gilbert groused that James’ departure was, “A shocking act of disloyalty” and a “shameful display of selfishness and betrayal.”
But return home is what James has ultimately decided to do. (At least for 730 days.)
Inevitably folks on all sides of the court got upset. SPORTS! But the following are just three of many statements made in regard to LeBron’s return to Cleveland:
“Lebron is like an abused wife going back home to a fat, old wife beater.”
“The City Of Cleveland is, essentially, that dumb broad who is taking back a boyfriend who betrayed them.”
“Letting @KingJames come back to Cleveland is like when Rihanna got back with Chris Brown. Asking to be abused and disrespected again.”
Earlier in the week professional lipstick wearer Sarah Palin drew the same likeness between herself and President Obama, not only calling the humanitarian crisis of immigrant children who have crossed into the United the “last straw,” but the former Governor of Alaska also used the platform to compare herself to an abused wife. In a post on Briebart.com Palin wrote:
“Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, “no mas.'”
The metaphor employed in both cases calls for a crucial evaluation of this often used, though pervasively sexist metaphor. (Many will also remember that Jay-Z and Beyonce were repeatedly blasted for misappropriating a similar notion in their song, “Drunk in Love,” which made casual comparison between their sex life and Tina Turner’s very somber, though public, history with physical abuse.)
In short: like any good ballplayer, we should know how to move around language better. We should also know when to pass. How many times can the same parallel be drawn before we are given license to silence it?
In 2011 nearly 1 in 5 women reported being sexually assaulted by a partner. 1 in 4 reported having been beaten. To lay false claim that any of these experiences are commensurate to such cases not only ignores the realities of abuse in the United States, but perpetuates issues of psychological damage and emotional manipulation of women (and men) who have faced the horror of abuse. By using language to draw comparisons betweens situations which are in no way similar, we belittle these incidents, and in that way condone them.
If metaphor is meant to draw unexpected threads between like subjects, what is the common ground here? And if we contextualize the metaphor in a socio-historical context, the comparison is baseless and the sentiment conveyed is: vulgar, sexist, misogynistic, low, sordid, degrading, lacking in any social value; shall I go on?
Beyond that it teaches young persons, boys in particular, that this language is OK because sexual shaming is part of our cultural narrative. If the adults use it then isn’t it fine for the park or the playground? At its deepest level this language is what lurks in the shadows, taunting women and bolstering the opinions of those who believe that women don’t have agency over their own bodies. Talking about women like this publicly is just another way to say you don’t own your body or your history, we do.
So while you may be mad at the President, or pissed at LeBron James, or feel like marching through Cleveland with your pants down in protest, please don’t get any of this week’s past events confused with abuse.
There might be honor among thieves, but there is no such privilege here.
As LeBron hangs up his #6 Heat jersey, and Miami fans hang their heads in solemnity or, perhaps, boredom, we should take a knee and consider hanging up this tired, tired metaphor as well.