LeBron James and His Memphis Bell Moment

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In a World War II movie depicting actual events, a B-17 bomber flying missions over Germany called the Memphis Bell is attempting to become the first American bomber to complete 25 missions. To date, no other bomber crew has lasted that long. On their fate-filled final mission, the crew leads a squadron of bombers into Germany to take out a munitions factory only there is so much cloud cover they cannot be certain precisely where the factory is. What they do know from their pre-mission briefing is that next to the factory is a school filled with children.

The moral and ethical dilemma the crew faces is huge; should they drop their payload in the hopes they have correctly targeted the factory even though they risk missing the factory and destroying the school along with all the kids inside? In the end they chose to circle overhead waiting for the clouds to clear even thought they are relentlessly attacked by German fighter planes.

This scene from the 1990 movie depicts a great philosophical conundrum that each of us face in some form or another at some point in our lives. For the crew of the Memphis Bell, they can choose to simply drop their load and go home heroes with their contribution to the war over. However, could they live with the outcome of that decision should it turn out they missed the factory and bombed the school? This moral challenge is somewhat akin to the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which was first proposed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in 1950. The Prisoner’s Dilemma attempts to provide a logic for why two completely rational individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it’s in their best interests to do so.

I teased the tittle of my post by intimating that standout basketball player Lebron James is engaged in a great moral challenge that he’s compelled to overcome. While you might think his dilemma is tied to basketball since his team is currently engaged in a tournament, it has nothing to do with sports. Mr. James’s challenge it explicitly tied to the brutal assassination attempt this past week by a Black Lives Matter (BLM) supporter who ambushed two Los Angeles deputies.

For the past three months, Mr. James has repeatedly attempted to interject himself into multiple social justice matters, hoping to spin his sports fame into protest fame much the same as Colin Kaepernick has done. While I do not support the protest positions Mr. Kaepernick advocates, I do respect his commitment to a cause and his willingness to lose everything to follow his conscience. Ironically, my sentiments regarding Mr. Kaepernick are just the opposite of how I feel about social agitator Al Sharpton, who I have no respect for even though I do agree with some of his rhetoric.

All of that brings me to Mr. James who has decided, much like Mr. Kaepernick, that because he’s good at sports people assume he’s a profound intellectual. As Mr. James has sought to interject himself in social justice causes, he finds himself supporting BLM; a domestic terrorist organization that loots, burns, pillages, and now carries out cold blooded executions. The Los Angles area Sheriff has challenged Mr. James to take a stand against domestic terrorism by contributing to the reward leading to the arrest of the BLM assassin.

This challenge requires Mr. James’s to take a stand, one way or the other. Like the pilot of the B-17 bomber, James’s decision has far ranging consequence. While most people believe they’d act in heroic self-sacrifice during a moment of grave moral crisis, the Prisoner’s Dilemma suggests otherwise, which is why watching how Mr. James resolves his moral challenge will not only be interesting, it will speak volumes about the prime-time outrage currently being displayed by professional athletes, along with providing an indication of their true commitment to real social justice. How many professional athletes are willing to sacrifice their careers for a cause they believe in, as Mr. Kaepernick has done? Will Mr. James continue to support domestic terrorism in the naïve belief this somehow represents the advancement of social justice, or will he stand on the right side of history and civil principles? This is truly an interesting Memphis Bell moment we will all get to observe in real time.