By Parris Clarke, Assistant Sports Editor–
Three weeks ago, European soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic waded into a war of words with Los Angeles Lakers star Lebron James.
Ibrahimovic spoke about how he wishes James and other celebrities would stay out of the political realm.
“[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time,” Ibrahimovic said. “Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football … Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”
Ibrahimovic’s comments sparked a firestorm of opinions on both sides of the political spectrum, reigniting the debate on whether professional athletes should engage in polarizing political activity.
The issue of athletes speaking out on political and social issues has really gained traction over the last decade, and particularly over the last year. Over the summer, many athletes took to the street and used their platforms to protest police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. During the election, James and others started the More than a Vote organization aimed at making voting more accessible to disenfranchised voters.
As more and more athletes speak out, more and more detractors hit back, telling athletes things like, “shut up and dribble.”
The aforementioned “shut up and dribble” movement where professional athletes are supposed to stick to their sport and nothing else is as absurd as it sounds. Apply that to a normal setting, if you were a plumber and happened to get off of work early and rushed home to cook your significant other a nice dinner, only for them to respond with, “take off the apron and stick to plumbing,” you’d be quick to serve them divorce papers.
Professional athletes are largely desensitized from the day-to-day lives of common people. It isn’t breaking news to point out that people who are shopping for third and fourth homes and play a child’s sport for a living might have opinions that differ from ordinary Americans.
So why does it continue to invariably dominate the headlines whenever James or Colin Kaepernick speak out on a subject?
Attempting to force athletes to shut their mouths on political and social issues has stripped the conversation from having any sort of nuance. When a professional athlete brings an opinion to the table, whether we agree with it or not, we should recognize it as an opportunity for healthy debate, as opposed to taking their opinion as a betrayal or a reaffirmation of our love for them.
We love LeBron James because he’s really great at dropping a leather ball into a tin hoop, not for his political musings. Deifying and demonizing athletes’ political opinions does nothing but shift the time that could be spent on meaningful conversation elsewhere. Our athlete’s opinions mean a lot and should be taken seriously, but no more or less serious than our own.