Do Athletes Have the Right to Speak Out on Politics?

Written by: Ryan 

Edited by: Lucas

Visual by: Johanna

On February 25, professional athlete and football legend, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, had a controversial take on athletes who voice their opinion on politics, specifically Lebron James: “[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.” 

His take on an already exhausted debate was met with outcry from other athletes, media, and fans alike, including James himself who replied, “I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor. And I want to continue to inspire people with the way I play.”

As a controversial figure in the world of sports, and despite the backlash received due to his previous comments, Ibrahimovic doubled down on his previous statements, clarifying his view, “Athletes unite the world, politics divide it. Our role is to unite the world by doing what we do best.”

This isn’t the first time Lebron James’s outspoken nature has led to criticism from public figures. Three years ago, he was famously told by Fox News anchor, Laura Ingraham to “Shut up and dribble.” This statement produced a similar uproar, but little has changed on either side of the issue.

Despite the adverse reactions that have been received, it is now much more common for athletes to speak their minds on political topics. With the recent growth of social media and its widespread accessibility, these views are reaching a greater audience. This once again reignites the debate: should athletes have a voice in politics?

The majority of professional athletes seem to think so, and there may be some reason behind it. Sports stars such as Lebron, Naomi Osaka, and Colin Kaepernick are role models for many and are known for their involvement in social issues while simultaneously being at the top of their sport. This combination has inspired young athletes to speak out on social issues and take action, in some cases sparking real, positive change.

But are they the right people to listen to? Critics of these athletes tend to point out that they are uneducated people who have influence over millions and can spawn a movement with a post or a tweet. Should this much power lie in the hands of young college dropouts who are known to make rash decisions?

As some of the richest and most famous people in the world, athletes have become the activists of the twenty-first century. Specifically with the Black Lives Matter movement, athletes were at the forefront of protests and demonstrations. However, not much has changed when it comes to these issues, and many athletes have been protesting for the same exact issues as they were twenty years ago. As a matter of fact, these prominent figures may not have any real political influence that they are thought to have. Whether or not they are allowed to speak may not even matter, the real power for change lies in the courtroom and the voting booth.

Works Cited

“Ibrahimovic-LeBron James: Zlatan Reaffirms ‘Stick to Sports’ Message.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 2 Mar. 2021, http://www.espn.com/soccer/ac-milan/story/4327650/ibrahimovic-lebron-james-zlatan-reaffirms-stick-to-sports-message.

Sullivan, Emily. “Laura Ingraham Told LeBron James To Shut Up And Dribble; He Went To The Hoop.” NPR, NPR, 19 Feb. 2018, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop.

“Zlatan Ibrahimovic to LeBron James: ‘Do What You’re Good at,’ Stay out of Politics.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 26 Feb. 2021, http://www.espn.com/soccer/ac-milan/story/4324640/zlatan-ibrahimovic-to-lebron-james-do-what-youre-good-at,-stay-out-of-politics.