Opinion: Why Zlatan Ibrahimovic is wrong to question Lebron James’ political stand

LeBron James is a basketball legend. (imago Images)
LeBron James is a basketball legend. (imago Images)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the biggest names in world football, criticized LeBron James. And not for his basketball skills. That will never be up for debate. But the Swede called the NBA star out for stepping out of his lane and focusing on political and social issues instead of basketball.

He said this in an interview for UEFA to Discovery+ (h/t ESPN) in February, when he asked James to keep his attention limited to basketball.

“[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. Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do.

I play football because I’m the best at playing football. 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.”

Zlatan’s comments, in simple terms, are directed at James in order to criticize him for his fight for social and political changes. He asked the LA Lakers star to not let fame get to his head as it doesn’t look good when people from other professions try to give their opinions on another profession.

ROME, ITALY – FEBRUARY 28: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of AC Milan reacts during the Serie A match between AS Roma and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 28, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

LeBron James hit back at Ibrahimovic

James was never going to be silent, and he hit back with powerful words towards the Swedish footballer. (h/t ESPN)

“I would never shut up about things that are wrong. I preach about my people, and I preach about equality. 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 were going on, and I know what’s going on still because I have a group of 300+ 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.”

James highlights that he will continue to be the voice of the needy and will not stop fighting for what he thinks is right.

Opinion: Who is right?

Zlatan is wrong. No person is ever so narrow in their lifestyle that they can limit themselves to just one thing. People have different dimensions to their personality and can hold significant opinions and expertise in certain fields.

By that logic, Akon should have stuck to his job as a rapper and not made sizeable efforts to better the life of his African brethren, or Dave Chappelle should have focused on making jokes rather than spread the message of racial inequality to masses in the killing of George Floyd by the police. But thankfully, they went ahead with it. And there was absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t have.

There is also no reason why LeBron should not have helped over 450 kids access basic education through his initiative, or offer his support to Eric Garner, an African American who was a victim of police brutality.

Humans will look out for their own. Nothing that James has done is wrong. He has raised awareness about issues such as Black Lives Matter and encouraged public participation by voting in elections through direct, tangible, means.

These are things that are helping the community. There is no reason why a sportsperson should stop doing them. Zlatan’s comments are reminiscent of comments made by American conservative personality Laura Ingraham, who asked Lebron to “shut up and dribble” instead of voice concerns for racial and political issues.

James, of course, had a reply for that (h/t The Guardian) [Subscritpion Required], just as he had a reply for Ibrahimovic.

 LeBron James #23 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers in a Black Lives Matter Shirt kneel with their teammates.
LeBron James #23 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers in a Black Lives Matter Shirt kneel with their teammates. (GETTY Images)

And so, Ibra’s comments come out from a place of ignorance and privilege. If you restrict people to what they are most famous for, you will stifle a person’s personality and the world would be devoid of a lot of important work and opinions.

The public is not dumb. People can listen to celebrities and still formulate an opinion for themselves. This is why even as a celebrity, or especially as a celebrity, you cannot get away with saying or doing something that is generally accepted as incorrect and harmful by society.

LeBron James is known for his social and political activism off the court. (GETTY Images)
LeBron James is known for his social and political activism off the court. (GETTY Images)

And coming back to Zlatan, it seems that he is making these comments just when it suits him. It could be that he does not agree with LeBron on certain issues and wants him to stop publicizing it, or, it could be just something that he honestly feels. But if it is the latter, then he is being a hypocrite.

A hypocrite?

He has publicly voiced concerns over racism when he talked to Canal+ (h/t ESPN) with regards to the Swedish media’s treatment of him just because of his surname.

 “What does the Swedish media do? They defend me or do they jump on and attack me? They still attack me, because they cannot accept that I am Ibrahimovic. If another player would do the same mistake I do, they would defend him. But when it comes to me, they don’t defend me. This is about racism. This is about racism. I don’t say there is racism but I say there is undercover racism.”

And if you do have to stick to what you are good at, maybe Ibrahimovic should lead by example and not do advertisements endorsing car brands, or launch his own line of perfumes? Because by his logic, that should be left for automotive experts and perfumers.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has undertaken a lot of ventures outside football. (GETTY Images)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has undertaken a lot of ventures outside football. (GETTY Images)

But that is, of course, not possible in real life. People are not one-dimensional. They explore different avenues. This is how individuals grow. So to ask someone to restrict themselves to just one sphere is just downright dismissive of their capabilities in other areas. This is perhaps why James also added in his response to Ibrahimovic that he is more educated than the Swede would presume.

“I speak from a very educated mind, so I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework.”

On another note, you cannot help but notice the arrogance and negative connotation a sentence like “shut up and dribble” carries; which is essentially what Ibrahimovic implied in his comments to James, albeit in less demeaning words.

So while it may just be a clash of words between two stars, it attains a very important connotation when the general principle behind Ibrahimovic’s comments is applied to society in general.

Stars can use their fame and popularity for good. A regular person would not have been able to make as much impact as Marcus Rashford did when it comes to feeding homeless children.

Marcus Rashford has used his fame for good as he has rallied to get the government to provide free meals for the needy in the UK. (GETTY Images)
Marcus Rashford has used his fame for good as he has rallied to get the government to provide free meals for the needy in the UK. (GETTY Images)

And when a celebrity gets out of hand, the public would not be quiet or passive enough to let it go ignored, especially not in the modern age where the world is shrinking and people are more closely connected than ever before.

Goodwill prevails and as long as famous people are taking steps to ensure the common good, they should be encouraged, not criticized.

Written by Aniket Rai

An ordinary football fan, doing what he loves.

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