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Will LeBron James endorsing Hillary Clinton make a difference?

Amrit Singh

 // Oct 3, 2016

Talent // Twitter

Conventional wisdom says that political endorsements by athletes and entertainers don't really "move the needle" when it comes to Election Day. But there's little about this one that's conventional: the biggest basketball star in the world, from arguably the most critical swing state in the nation, wrote an op-ed endorsing a presidential candidate by speaking directly to the economic concerns that have made it such a competitive campaign spot.

The piece in question was written by LeBron James, appears in Business Insider, and is printed on the front page of the Akron Beacon Journal, his hometown paper, today.

Will it make a difference? Like most aspects of this campaign season, this one is going to put conventional wisdom to the test.

First, let's quickly discuss why Ohio is so important this election season. One reason is because this state is important every election season. It's what they call a "bellwether." As goes Ohio, so goes the nation: Ohio has gone for the winner of every presidential election since 1960, and for 28 of the past 30 Presidents. In 120 years, they've only got it wrong twice.

It's a diverse state, mirroring the nation. Another reason is very 2016: Donald Trump's path to victory is narrow, and his electoral road map depends on Ohio. (There are other ways he could get to the 270 electorates he needs, but they're unlikely.) Ohio voted Barack Obama both times, but the state's largely depressed post-industrial economic climate has weakened that support, making it vulnerable to Trump's message of opposing trade agreements, and asking "What do you have to lose?" And so LeBron has stepped up to answer.

It's worth noting that it's rare to see athletes of LeBron’s stature take such a strident political stance. As the conversation surrounding Colin Kaepernick's defiant national anthem-kneeling has suggested, many athletes suppress their views for fear of risking endorsement opportunities by being divisive. But that's a pivot point for LeBron. In his passionate op-ed, LeBron says it is precisely Trump's divisive politics that's inspired his endorsement, saying "policies and ideas that divide us more are not the solution."

James speaks to Ohio, specifically, and the African-American community writ large. This is most explicit when he outlines the essential mission of his charitable foundation — and his life as a young adult — and aligns it with the campaign promises of Hillary Clinton, a candidate who he sees as having worked for decades to provide economic opportunities to communities that have been left behind by a culture that's systematically favored the entrenched classes, be they racial or socioeconomic.

"Only one person running truly understands the struggles of an Akron child born into poverty," he says, adding, "I support Hillary because she will build on the legacy of my good friend, President Barack Obama."

It's bold to see an athlete of his stature lay his reputation on the line for a political election. Bold, but not surprising when it comes to LeBron: Recall that, in honoring Muhammed Ali at the ESPYs this year, James called upon this generation's athletes to honor the great boxer’s outspoken commitment to social activism, saying, "Let's use this moment as a call to action to all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence -- and most importantly -- go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources." He added: "Help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them."

LeBron's picked up the mantle, and laid it on the line. The question: Can he swing his swing state? He delivered Ohio a championship, now we see if he can help deliver Ohio to the Democrats.

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