Do They Have a Right to Speak Out on Political and Social Justice Issues?
Watching the NBA All-Star game yesterday I was reminded of the recent controversy over whether athletes should speak out on issues that concern all Americans or stay silent and do what they do best. Fox News correspondent, Laura Ingraham, famously said to NBA players they should just ‘Shut Up and Dribble’ in responding to comments made by LeBron James about talking politics. Ingraham believes that it is out of bounds for athletes, like LeBron, to speak out. The reason being they get paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.
Somehow, in Ingraham’s mind, that disqualifies them from speaking out on political and social justice issues as many did after the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement following several instances where the police used excessive force to deal with what they thought were menacing actions by black citizens. Ingraham’s comments caused a backlash and spawned a nine-episode streaming program that chronicled athletes who have spoken out over time. If you haven’t watched it yet I can highly recommend it.
The idea that athletes shouldn't be politically active in the public sphere is widely held according to those who produced the series. It demonstrates that in the case of black athletes, holding the game at a distance from the society in which it's played is not only contrary to history but impossible. And, perhaps, that it would be irresponsible.
The influence of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last several years give the black athletes the right to speak out about social justice issues. This is even more compelling because they have huge followers on social media who want to hear their opinions on the difficult issues that face the U.S.
The players can reach out directly to their fans with how they feel. According to Greg Popovich, the well-respected NBA coach of the San Antonio Spurs, players such as LeBron and Steph Curry, are “the platinum standards for NBA players.” And the fact that they’re speaking out has given cover to a lot of players who also have been outspoken on these issues.
It should be noted that 75 percent of NBA basketball players are black. This speaks volumes about why they have a right to speak out on issues of concern to all Americans, not just black Americans, and certainly, not just NBA players. Fully 70 percent of NFL players are also black. It makes no sense to stifle the voices of such a large group wherever they come from or whatever their race or nationality.
Some people point out that the NBA is a global sports profession with players from roughly 36 different countries. That kind of diversity gives them the right to speak out against anyone who says that immigrants are the problem or Muslims are the problem.
No one seems to say that Hollywood actors should shut up and just act although comments by British comedian Ricky Gervais at an Academy Awards presentation chided Hollywood A-listers such as Tom Hanks, Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio for lecturing the country on politics or anything else for that matter.
Back in August, the NBA announced that the league and its players had agreed to establish a Social Justice Coalition that would be made up of players, coaches, and governors. Now, it appears as though they've appointed their board.
Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley, Sterling Brown, Donovan Mitchell, and Karl-Anthony Towns will represent the players. Lloyd Pierce and Doc Rivers will represent the coaches and Micky Arison, Steve Ballmer, Clay Bennett, Marc Lasry and Vivek Randadive will represent the governors. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts will also be on the board. This is a great idea and I applaud the NBA in getting out front on the issues surrounding social justice.
Just last week LeBron James wrote to his 49 million followers on Twitter that “This last election won’t change anything if we don’t keep working.” LeBron feels an obligation to speak out about social justice issues to represent the black athletes’ views because of his leadership position in the NBA. I agree with him. If not LeBron than who? If not now, then when?
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on March 8, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.