Athletes have every right to voice their opinions

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Members of the workforce are more than their careers, movie stars are more than the actors and actresses they portray, and athletes are more than the the sports they play.

Professional athletes should not keep their mouths shut when it comes to public opinion. People should’t need a Ph.D. in political science to be able to comment on the things they see happening in everyday life. If it doesn’t require a degree to vote and make a difference in the political map of this country, then why should a degree be required to voice a political opinion?

This question arose after Laura Ingraham, Fox News journalist, had choice remarks for comments NBA star LeBron James, who shared his opinions on President Donald Trump.

On Jan. 15, Cari Champion of the Undefeated conducted a back seat interview with James and Kevin Durant where James said the president isn’t on the same page as the citizens he governs.

“The number one job in America, the appointed person is someone who doesn’t understand the people,” James said, adding that Trump has comments that are “laughable and scary.”

Clearly, this is James’s personal opinion, guaranteed to him by his First Amendment constitutional rights. However, Ingraham had a much different perspective than James, slamming the NBA star on her Feb.15 show “The Ingraham Angle.” Ingraham said James lacked the qualifications to voice a real opinion on political issues.

“It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” Ingraham said on her show. “Keep the political comments to yourselves … Shut up and dribble.”

James isn’t paid by the government. He, like other professional athletes, are paid by privately owned companies. Therefore, these individuals have the liberty to speak their minds. This might be different if these athletes were teachers, for instance, or in another position paid by tax dollars where political opinions would be inappropriate in public form. In this case, however, James, or any other athlete, is completely within his freedom to criticize the Trump administration.

Ingraham, in an attempt to discredit James’s opinions, said his views were the result of someone leaving school early to play professional basketball.

Ingraham attempted to classify James as uneducated and therefore disqualified to voice his opinion. This is not an uncommon issue within the cultural sports stereotypes that flood the country. Athletes, at times, can be deemed to fall under the false notion of being just “dumb jocks”who aren’t meant to have real thoughts or opinions. However, they shouldn’t be considered any different than other public figures who have an opportunity to voice their political commentary without much dismay.

Other movie stars and public figures are not held to the same standard of keeping quiet regarding politics and they use their various platforms to spread their views. Take Meryl Streep for instance, who during her 2017 Golden Globes victory speech, said Trump’s use of rhetorical devices was sub-par, and criticized his behavior for mocking a disabled reporter. Streep, while a distinguished actress, is not a political analyst, nor went to school to receive a degree to speak about the U.S. political climate. However, her remarks are still open to be heard. She is a private citizen free to use her platform however she sees fit.

This notion goes for several other public figures. What are the qualifications of comedian Trevor Noah for hosting the “Daily Show,” a program meant to add a comedic spin/satire to some of the pressing news stories of the day? Noah, like Streep, likely has not been equipped with formal training that qualifies him to comment on news that’s occurred throughout the day. Yet, some people will watch the Daily Show over any other news outlet’s coverage to receive their news regarding politics or current events.

The logic, therefore, simply seems inconsistent and flawed in telling athletes that they have to keep their mouths shut.

James is widely considered to be one of the best basketball players in the NBA. Being held in such a high regard in the sport gives him a very far reach with the public, regardless of his technical educational level. If anything, politicians and journalists should want him to use his platform to bring attention to major issues. James has an opportunity to reach people who may prefer to watch a basketball game or interview, versus watching the evening news when they get home from their long day at work.

That being said, athletes like James have an opportunity to reach a crowd that may otherwise be unaware of things happening in the world affecting them. Even if they don’t care for that athlete’s opinion, at least they have the opportunity to be exposed to the information and form their own opinions.

If athleres aren’t allowed to use the sports they play as a platform, if they aren’t allowed to use the media, aren’t they just being forced into submission? Equally, people complain with James voicing his opinion on a television platform. Situations like these unfortunately would leave one to believe people will not be pleased either way. If someone doesn’t like what they have to say, they can turn the TV off.

What would it say about our country if everyone was forced to repress their voices for fear of being ostracized and demeaned. America was built on people’s differences of opinion. Challenges of opinion lead to change, development and improvement. So, why should an opinion from an athlete, who may be voicing and reiterating the sentiments of the public, be forced into a box because of the career they’re known for is considered a sport?