The Playbook for Politics
With all of the recent social issue movements, there has been debate on whether athletes should be involved in speaking out about these issues. Do they have a responsibility to use their platform and influence to raise awareness? Or should they stick to sports?
by Prithvi Prem
Over the past decade, we have seen athletes like Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James use their platforms to speak out against various issues. We saw this with Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and with Lebron James leading NBA players in protesting against racial inequality and other social justice issues.
However, in an interview on February 26, Swedish footballer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, stated:
"I don't do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn't look good."
Later in the interview talking about Lebron, Ibrahimovic stated "[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”. These comments by Ibrahimovic gained large amounts of attention throughout the sporting world, with Lebron later expressing his disapproval.
This is where the trilemma is presented: Should athletes be involved in politics? Or should they stick to what they’re good at? Or is there, perhaps, a neutral perspective?
POV 1: Athletes should be more involved in politics.
Throughout history, we have seen a large mix of athletes speak out on various social and political issues. In the 1940s, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional sports, becoming the first African American MLB player. Recently, with the BLM movement, we have seen many NBA and NFL athletes take to the streets to protest along with other citizens.
Professional athletes have a big platform in today’s society, thanks to social media and the press. When many NFL players took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, the American public knew almost instantly. The players’ actions helped to expand national conversations about police brutality. Players in other leagues began to do the same when the national anthem was played. More people are aware of this issue as a result, and pressure is being put on politicians and police officers alike to treat people more equally. If players want certain issues to be fixed, the best way they can help is through spreading awareness themselves.
We have also seen many celebrities like Katy Perry and Leonardo Dicaprio become involved in politics over recent years. Since they are allowed to delve into politics, despite being people who work in the entertainment industry, why can’t athletes do the same? If it wasn’t for the attention that athletes and celebrities brought to certain issues, the general public would be far less informed and passionate about eradicating such issues.
POV 2: Athletes should not be involved in politics.
For most, if not all athletes, politics is not their main area of expertise. That means that there are areas in politics which athletes are uneducated about. It would be much better if athletes would stick to what they do best, playing sports. Since there is a possibility they may be misinformed, they should not have a higher influence regarding politics than those who are actually specialized in this field.
Star athletes of every sport, including football, have a unique opportunity to show the world how individuals of different races, religions, and nationalities can compete respectfully in their field. They should be examples for the world of how to respect each other instead of how to protest for various causes.
In 2019, the NBA lost millions of dollars and sponsorships after Rockets GM Daryl Morey posted a Tweet about the Hong Kong protests. NBA players like Lebron also spoke out about the issue, causing mass criticism from the media. If this type of incident happens again, the consequences could be even worse for the NBA and its players. To avoid any of this, it is best for the players to just stay out of politics, and not risk anything, whether it be their social status or the possibility of misinforming the public.
POV 3: Athletes should only speak out on issues that affect them.
The neutral side to this debate is that Athletes can participate in politics, but only for issues that they are personally affected by. For example, for an athlete like Lebron James, he should speak out about issues like racism, the BLM movement, but not about issues like the Hong Kong protests.
This method will allow athletes to speak about the issues they care about in a way that will not hurt the leagues for which they play for. The Daryl Morey situation brought up earlier is a great example of what could happen if athletes were to speak out on an issue that doesn’t directly affect them. Although it is important to spread awareness of certain issues, it should be done in a way that guarantees a net positive impact.
However, at the end of the day, it is always the athlete’s choice on what they want to do. Basic human rights include the freedom of speech, so the player can technically say whatever they want. However, a single controversial bit of information could cause them to lose everything.