Staff Opinion: Athletes not only deserve to be heard, they need to be heard

By Nick Pisani | April 4, 2018 10:00am

_MG_5955
by Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Even though we are only four months in, 2018 has already been a sports fan’s dream. During these last few months we’ve seen an exhilarating Super Bowl game finish with more than 70 points, a March Madness that hasn’t failed to entertain, a Winter Olympics that expanded upon what we thought was humanly possible, and countless developments in the NBA as the season nears playoffs.

With all the major sporting events taking place this year, arguably the best performances are yet to come. For fans of America’s pastime baseball, the season is just getting started, and lovers of the beautiful game are preparing to lose sleep with the World Cup being less than 80 days away.

Russia is hosting the World Cup this summer and has allotted a budget of $10 billion to host the world’s most viewed sporting event. Every player on the winning team of this year’s Super Bowl was awarded an extra $112,000. March Madness, which is currently approaching the Final Four stage, typically produces around $900 million for the NCAA. Yet despite all the money being generated by athletes around the world, it appears their opinions are still worthless.

Just last month, Fox News host Laura Ingraham told NBA All Star Lebron James to “shut up and dribble.” The remark was made on live television in response to an ESPN interview featuring Lebron James and Kevin Durant during which James discussed topics of political importance and criticized President Trump.

Since Lebron James is one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game and one of the biggest celebrities in our country, it wasn’t long before the interview became viral and backlash came flooding back to Ingraham. Not only is Ingraham’s statement despicable for its unproductive malice, it is also simply bereft of intelligent thought.

Ingraham argues that celebrities who are paid millions just to dribble a ball should not be complaining about the country they live in. The statement stereotypes athletes as mindless jocks who have pushed their physical limits rather than their mental abilities and are therefore too incompetent to voice political opinions.

The simple fact that Lebron James is a citizen of the United States is reason enough for him to voice whatever opinion he pleases, just as Ingraham does on her “news” show. James is a role model to millions of kids around the world and wouldn’t be a very good one if he weren’t allowed to talk. 

Furthermore, Ingraham’s complaint that James’ hefty salary renders him too entitled to complain means she too has no place to talk. If Lebron James, who worked his way from the inner city of Akron, Ohio to become the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, cannot voice his opinions on America’s problems because he makes millions, then why should Laura Ingraham, who grew up in one of Connecticut’s wealthiest neighborhoods, be allowed to talk when she too makes millions?

The idea of athletics bearing little importance to society and athletes being unqualified to talk about real world issues is ridiculous. Athletics have been around for as long as humans have had free time. 

The first Olympics were held after the Battle of Marathon (the name is not a coincidence) in ancient Greece, whereas Ingraham’s profession of journalism didn’t appear until the first newspaper was published in 1605 AD. I find it astonishing Ingraham can even call herself a serious reporter and a conservative since she is criticizing an American citizen for practicing their First Amendment right.

"It's always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball," Ingraham said, implying sports have little relevance to our modern world in comparison to the constantly evolving field of political journalism. Last year, Fox News boasted profits of $1.4 billion within a three-month period. That’s a pretty big sum of money and appears to make Ingraham’s job look much more valuable to society. It might even bolster the idea that she has some right in telling Lebron James to “shut up.” However, compare that to the $2.7 billion profit the 2014 World Cup produced in the span of a month, and ask yourself once again if sports are truly irrelevant.

Athletes should never shut up, because their voices are powerful. At the beginning of March, Toronto Raptors’ star and MVP candidate, DeMar DeRozan, opened up about his struggles with depression and it brought on a national discussion about mental health. Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali did not abide by pathetic remarks like “shut up and box” or “shut up and bat.”

The importance of athletes speaking up is not just an American issue. If you are still truly in doubt about the immense influence athletes can catalyze, then read about Didier Drogba, one of the greatest strikers to ever play soccer. 

For five years, a civil war had ravaged the Ivory Coast, his native country. In 2005, Drogba led the Ivory Coast to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. After one of the qualifying games, Drogba went on national television and begged the warring factions within his native country to stop fighting. Drogba was not told to “shut up and dribble.” Instead, a week passed, the fighting stopped, and just like that, an athlete had used his voice to stop a civil war.

Nick Pisani is a freshman double majoring in Communications and History. He can be reached at pisani21@up.edu or nickpisani101@gmail.com. 

B