Celebrities in Athletics and Political Discourse


Rasheed Hossain

Members of the Girls’ Varsity Basketball team are well aware of the impact that sports can have upon how athletes view themselves.

In history class, we often focus our discussions around the individuals and events that have shaped American society as we know it. We learn of the activists, politicians, and leaders who have led citizens to pursue ideas of equality and liberty. Last May 2019, after the AP exam, my AP US History class gained a new perspective of individuals who shaped history. We talked about Jack Johnson, a world-famous boxer during  the Progressive Era. He was unique in his way of captivating American society and racial discourse; through his notoriety in the world of boxing, he was able to gain huge recognition, eventually becoming a symbol for African-Americans and their ability to succeed in a society meant to hinder their capabilities. Johnson’s rise to boxing superstardom was cut short with legislation specifically targeted to bring him down. Even though he was only a boxer, he became the champion of the everyday African-American, who did not exactly fit within the predominantly white society he lived in.

The way that Johnson was able to attract and spark such national discourse while not being a politician is remarkable. He would fight in the ring knowing that there were people in the audience who wanted him dead or incarcerated. This is what truly makes an athlete great. The ability to not only push one’s body to the limit but to also rise up against the expectations set for one is what separates the great from the legendary. That is why comments like, “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Keep the political comments to yourselves … Shut up and dribble,” from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, are rash and intolerable. Ingraham made the comment prior to last year’s’ NBA All Star Game, when Lebron James and Kevin Durant led an interview on what it was like being a successful African-American man in America. The athletes dealt with the situation as expected and used the controversy to raise awareness about the cause.

The ability to not only push one’s body to the limit but to also rise up against the expectations set for one is what separates the great from the legendary.

However, some, like Ingraham, believe these celebrities’ successful careers makes them unfit to try and relate to the suffering of African-American teenagers whose hearts skip a beat when they pass an officer, or the Latinx father who can’t find employment because of his citizenship status.Yes, Lebron James might make an eight figure salary and is arguably one of the best basketball players in the world. He enjoys the daily luxuries most people can dare to dream about, lives in a mansion, goes on expensive and extravagant vacations, and dominates lunchroom conversation in schools everywhere.  But most ignore the fact that Lebron James grew up with a single teenage mother in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

Just as Jack Johnson rose to international acclaim through his passion, athletes today have the power to use their voice to spark change. Many others like Lebron have experienced the depths of struggle growing up, but have learned to use their passion for sports in order to pursue a brighter future. Because of this, they definitely should not “shut up and dribble.” Their stories are inspirational, and their voice should not be silenced.

Among the highlight reels of Lebron’s ferocious tomahawk dunks, there is one thing you can almost always see: a wristband on Lebron’s arm with the words “I Promise” written on it. Many fans speculated that it was a promise to bring a championship back to his hometown Cleveland. However, he later clarified it was actually an affirmation to the kids in Lebron’s neighborhood. “For me growing up, and for a lot of kids growing up in the situation I grew up in, [college] wasn’t a reality. We just didn’t feel like it was possible.” Lebron wears the band to encourage kids to promise themselves a better future-to graduate high school and to pursue their dreams not matter what. That is why James opened the I Promise School this past summer. The school brought in kids that were not on path to graduate and helped them to achieve testing scores above the average of the school district.

Today, we see an ever increasing amount of headlines about athletes. Amazingly, they are not all about the sports they play but about their views on social happenings. Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem is one of the most recent examples of this. President Trump said that it is necessary to stand for the anthem to respect America’s greatness. However, Kaepernick’s actions reveal that members of the National Football League have a duty as athletes to stand for the rights of their people and to never just “shut up and dribble.”