I wanted to wait to write about this topic because I knew it would leave the news cycle in an extremely expeditious manner. As is generally the norm when it comes to situations involving race.
And that is what we are talking about here. Race. The fact that that may not be apparent might explain why so many clueless names keep piping up.
So, let's backtrack a bit and recap what happened. AC Milan and newly-unretired Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimović for some reason went out of his way to say that athletes should not involve themselves with politics. As stupid as that comment was, he then made the grave mistake of allowing the name of Lebron James to slip gratuitously out of his mouth. Zlatan stated that he was a fan of Lebron's talent but thought it unwise for him and others to get concerned with activism.
"I don't like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time," Ibra with a straight face said. "Do what you're good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best at playing football."
Let's gloss over the absolutely hilarious claim of his that he's the best at playing football since we simply don't have the time or energy for that nonsense. TLDR -- GTFOH.
And let's focus on the ignorant and dangerous rhetoric he also decided to sputter out.
The facts don't align, first and foremost. Lebron James is one of the greatest basketball players of all time (he's #3 for me, behind Michael and Kobe). But, he's also a superstar when it comes to DOING POLITICS. He actually does politics quite well and has over the years.
These are times when we need people with platforms to do their utmost to create change. Zlatan as a white European unsurprisingly doesn't understand what exactly is at stake. We live in a present day where police officers murder black men and women at an alarming rate with zero recourse. Where the most prominent leaders are white supremacists. Where suppressing minorities' votes is a winning political strategy and tactic and done with the sole purpose of obliterating our voices. Tyranny ran and continues to run riot in this country. Now for the past year, Asians in America are getting murdered and violently attacked and abused due specifically to the words spoken loudly by the aforementioned white nationalists in power.
And we came together to do something about that. We, as a people, united and toppled the brutish regime. One of the main reasons why we saw such triumph was because of the minorities in this country who flocked to the polls and let our voices soar. The WNBA and NBA players, as a whole, were monumental in this shift (shouts to the Atlanta Dream heroines, specifically). Lebron James, in particular, created an organization called More Than A Vote which massively increased voter turnout and led to 42,000 individuals to volunteer to work at polling stations in the middle of a pandemic.
The "shut up and dribble" crowd isn't new. They've existed for quite some time to tell black athletes to simmer down and not use their status for social change. Colin Kaepernick has become the poster boy of this exact scenario. And the silencing in sports is not dissimilar to the FBI targeting Billie Holiday in the 1930s-50s with undercover agents on minor drug charges. They needed her in prison any which way so she would stop singing the scalding eye-opener that is Strange Fruit. And they succeeded. The white overlords did not want America hearing about lynchings, none of which were prosecuted, mind you. She and her iconic voice were a threat to the white civility of that era. She and it had to be silenced. Play the hits, but don't get political.
Sounds familiar, right? That step-back 3? Love it, fam. The push to register repressed folk to exercise their right to vote? No, thank you.
Zlatan has only idiotically added his name to the list of these silencers. People with the same color skin of his aren't getting choked to death by the authorities. They aren't getting their house broken into and being executed for no reason. They aren't getting denied basic equality. So, it's easy for him to take this preposterous stance because he simply has no idea what it means to live the entirety of his life in a supposed democracy as a second class citizen.
To add to the absurdity of this human being, Zlatan himself, as Lebron pointed out, has fought against discrimination. Discrimination by the Swedish people towards him. Because of his name. Because of his non-Swedish heritage. He claimed if he had a Swedish last name, his transgressions and attitude would be forgiven. But hmmm...ok, I guess, it's only cool to speak out when it affects Ibra directly.
And this wasn't even a big news story in the football world. Footballers routinely do not speak out against oppression. They are businesses built to promote themselves as a means to garner as much money as possible. See: Pelé and the Brazilian dictatorship of his time. This self-serving image production is the reason why so many players find themselves in Qatar and UAE and Saudi for their holidays or warm weather training but have no qualms with the dedicated human rights violations that occur in those locales on a daily basis. Pep Guardiola cannot go five minutes without pledging allegiance to the Catalan cause. But when asked about his bosses in Abu Dhabi and their commitment to slavery and misogyny and imprisoning opponents...“every country decides the way they want to live for themselves.” Huh? Xavi became a spokesperson for the Qatar World Cup after becoming a player and then manager of Doha club Al-Sadd. He all of a sudden found nothing wrong with how the country bribed their way to that allocation, or with how the leaders he pals around with have enslaved and killed countless South Asians.
Marcus Rashford took a stand last year to feed the children who relied on school lunches for meals. And he was and is saluted for his heroism. Rightly so. He received an MBE from the Queen for his efforts. But he is an anomaly in that he bit back against the government in order to help serve the forgotten about races. Footballers are charitable and donate and have their causes, but that is completely different to what we are discussing here. Using their stature for political action is relatively unheard of at the highest levels of the sport.
And I'm not arguing that players of any kind should feel obligated to speak up. I am arguing that if players DO want to, they SHOULD, and everyone critiquing should SHUT THE FUCK UP. If Lebron James was telling the presidential administration to maintain the Senate filibuster because he likes how the word looks on paper, I would lead a campaign to stop him from speaking his mind on the matter. But if he's gathering the gagged voices of America to vote and protest and take action against the ongoing centuries-old hatred, I find it cataclysmically unintelligent to get in his way. The same goes for Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1, Megan Rapinoe in soccer, Naomi Osaka in tennis and many others. Let them speak their minds and act upon it.
I purposefully used the word "dangerous" earlier. And this practice is dangerous because that is the pattern of the whitewashed world. Historically speaking, colonizers and white leaders after them, thought and oftentimes nowadays still consider that what they do or say or think is best for everyone. As a child of a country wrapped in chains until 1947, I am confident when I say that that is how we got into this mess we find ourselves in. What are the benefits and reasons of telling someone to restrain themselves from their activism? When that very same activism is trying to tackle bigotry and fascism spiraling out of control and nestling comfortably into normalcy. Why would speaking out and organizing communities be a negative? It just does not make sense to back this platform. Unless you are blindly wading through the waters because you cannot relate or do not want to relate. Either way, it is a menace and a treacherous way to progress forward.
I don't think Zlatan was being overtly malicious. I do think that he has no grasp on reality and does not comprehend to even the slightest degree what the world is like for non-white people. We should not quieten down athletes like Lebron James. We should in fact embolden them and encourage more to use their power and resources for the greater good of our gradually disintegrating society.
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