A son, a father, a husband, a millennial with boomer opinions, are all terms that could be used to describe Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimović. In a Thursday interview with UEFA, Zlatan criticized LeBron James and “famous” people claiming it’s a “mistake” and “doesn’t look good” when they get involved in politics. James not only dismissed his comments as hypocritical, but he completely obliterated Zlatan’s opinion. “I would never shut up about things that are wrong,” James said following their Friday- night win over the Trailblazers. “I preach about my people, and I preach about inequality, social injustice, racism, systematic voter suppression, things that go on in our community”.
“Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that was going on. And I know what’s going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing, and they need a voice. And I’m their voice. I’m their voice, and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on. Not only in my community, but around this country and around the world. So, there’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how this platform and how powerful my voice is. “
James also pointed to Zlatan’s 2018 comments when he claimed: “undercover racism” caused the media to treat him differently from players with traditional surnames like Andersson or Svensson. “He’s the guy who said in Sweden, he was talking about the same things, because his last name wasn’t a traditional Swedish last name. He felt like there was some racism going on,” James said.
Once again, LeBron James showed everyone why he’s one of the most influential athletes of all time. In fact, let’s take a moment to appreciate some of what LeBron James has done off the court.
More Than an Athlete
In 2004, LeBron James created the LeBron James Family Foundation. This charitable organization would provide free bikes to students who accomplished their educational goals. Since its creation, it’s only grown. In what’s considered his first big initiative, James created a program where students who met academic standards would receive free tuition at the University of Akron. In 2018, LeBron James opened his I Promise School, a public elementary school for at-risk students in Akron, Ohio.
When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012, LeBron James tweeted a photo of him and his Heat teammates wearing hoodies captioned with the hashtag #WeAreTrayvonMartin. Since then, numerous athletes across all sports have used their social media for all types of activism. From the Eric Garner “I can’t breathe” T-shirt, to repping “Black Lives Matter”, LeBron James has been outspoken on it all, even when it wasn’t a popular opinion. He and the Lakers boycotted during the 2020 playoffs in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake. He Modified a MAGA-hat and called for the arrest of the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor.
LeBron James’s influence has changed the NBA, and in doing so, changed sports leagues across America.
One of the biggest criticisms against LeBron James was 2010’s The Decision. But in the years since, LeBron James has become a mogul in the media world. His company Springhill Entertainment helped create both The Shop on HBO and Space Jam 2 with Warner Bros. Using social media and his “platform” Uninterrupted, he spreads his message of empowerment and continues to inspire change. Because of LeBron James, NBA players across the league now have Twitch channels, Youtube channels, or even their own platforms.
Think Athletes Should Stick to Sports?
If Zlatan Ibrahimović truly believes that athletes should stick to sports, then he should forego any and all future endorsement deals. All those Xbox ads? Pull them. His Volvo ads? Get rid of them. His deal with Nike? Burn everything. LeBron James literally opened a WHOLE school out of the kindness in his heart, but Zlatan thinks he should stick to sports.
Let’s be clear, you don’t get to nitpick and say athletes should just stay out of politics. If you shouldn’t endorse or speak out against a candidate, you shouldn’t endorse a product. If it’s wrong to bring attention to injustices in the world, it’s wrong of you to promote a console. It’s absolutely ridiculous that after everything that happened in 2020, Zlatan Ibrahimović still can’t see past his own nose. The NBA supported the players when the BLM movement was at its peak and was a trailblazer for how sports leagues should handle COVID-19.
If athletes never used their voice, then impactful changes would come less frequently. Maya Moore has sacrificed two years of her career to fight for prison reform. Colin Kaepernick sacrificed his ENTIRE career trying to bring attention to police brutality. Enes Kanter is literally a wanted man in Turkey for his continuous criticism of Turkish dictator Erdogan. And if you asked them if they’d take it back, they’d all tell you No. Being an athlete for some is enough, but for others, it’s an opportunity to make an everlasting change.
Hopefully one day Zlatan Ibrahimović wakes the hell up.