More than an athlete: Should sports stars use their platform to speak out on non-sports issues?


Photo: D. Myles Cullen, Public Domain Dedication

Names such as Tom Brady, Lebron James, Lionel Messi, and Serena Williams are some of the most recognizable on the planet. Being at the top of a professional sport brings great fame and glory, along with potential for great influence. These athletes are accustomed to the spotlight, and with the rise of social media, exposure has only increased. Quotes from famous athletes, especially about controversial topics, can often become widespread very quickly. 

In recent years, controversy resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice issues, and the election have all caused division in perspectives around the world. People love to share their takes on current events on social media, and many athletes are no different. However, there is one key difference.  

Athletes have a huge platform and following to share their opinions. They are admired by massive and diverse fanbases, many of whom follow their every word. For example, NBA star LeBron James recently obtained his 100 millionth Instagram follower, making him the United States’ most followed athlete. 

James has been historically outspoken regarding his opinions, posting tweets regarding social justice and using the hashtag #ACCOUNTABILITY about police brutality. One tweet from April of 2020 sparked huge controversy when James was accused of garnering hate and targeting a police officer. James’ supporters were quick to defend his opinions, while others questioned James’ credibility and called for his sponsors to drop him.  

James’ tweet is just one example of athletes taking using their fame to speak out about political issues. Historically, both NFL and NBA players have kneeled for the national anthem for social justice and to advocate against racism. When the NBA played exhibition games in Hong Kong, both players and team owners were active on social media regarding tensions with China. Championship teams have refused visits to the White House due to a distaste for former President Trump. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, the general public and fans do need to question the credibility of anything they see or hear, especially on social media and from celebrities.  

Most athletes rose to fame for one sole reason, their athletic prowess and talent. This doesn’t necessarily make them qualified to advise the general public about anything outside of sports. However, athletes do not need to suppress their statements or stop speaking out. The real change needs to be made in the perception by the public of what athletes say.  

The public needs to realize that athletes are not superior to the general population. They are certainly gifted in sports and are wealthy, but this does not speak for their overall knowledge of controversial issues. If the public could realize this and think for themselves while respecting other opinions, the issue of athletes using their platforms would not be nearly as profound. No one needs to blindly follow anyone else’s opinions, regardless of their platform, athlete or not.