NBA star LeBron James hit back at Swedish soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Saturday for discouraging professional athletes from using their platforms for political activism.
James responded to Ibrahimovic in a post-game interview after James’ Los Angeles Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 102-93. James said that he uses his platform to shine a light on “social injustice” in the United States and “around the world.”
“I would never shut up about things that’s wrong. I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social injustice, racism, you know, systematic [sic] voter suppression, things that go on in our community,” James said.
“I was a part of my community at one point and seen the things that was going on, and I know that, you know, what’s going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that’s going through the same thing, and they need a voice, and I’m their voice,” he continued, referring to his I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. “I’m their voice and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community, but around this country and around the world.”
James has poured money into philanthropic and activist efforts in the United States dealing with issues such as alleged systemic racism and voter suppression. He has also taken heat for some issues his voice has been noticeably quiet on. James has refused to speak out against China’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and he defended the Chinese state against criticism from others in the NBA.
“There’s no way I will ever just stick to sports because I understand how, you know, this platform and how powerful my voice is,” James said.
He then went after Ibrahimovic, who plays for Italy’s AC Milan, for using his platform as an international soccer star to advocate for issues in his home country of Sweden.
“I believe in, like, 2018 [Ibrahimovic] was the same guy who said – when he was back in Sweden – talking about the same things because his last name wasn’t a certain last name that he felt like it was some racism going on when he was out in the pitch. Right? He did say that, right?” James challenged. “Yeah, I thought he said that, so. I speak from a very educated mind. I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework.”
LeBron responded after Zlatan Ibrahimovic criticized him for his activism.
“I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework.” pic.twitter.com/VyKgBrYuiz
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 27, 2021
In 2018, Ibrahimovic told a French television outlet that he believes he has not gotten full credit for his skill as a player because of racism in the media. “There is undercover racism. This exists, I am 100 percent sure. Because I am not Andersson or Svensson,” Ibrahimovic said, according to The Atlantic.
On Thursday, Ibrahimovic called out James for using his position as a pro-athlete to weigh in on politics.
“[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time,” Ibrahimovic said. “Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football.”
“I don’t do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics,” he added. “That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”
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