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Lebron vs Zlatan: Why Apolitical Superstars Last Forever

The words were Zlatan Ibrahimovic's own, but the message was a familiar one.

Stick to the game; Shut up and dribble. This was the deep meaning behind the message sent by Ibrahimovic in a recent interview last week after he targeted NBA star LeBron James.

“[LeBron] Ibrahimovic told Discovery + in Sweden, “When he is in some kind of situation, I don't like it when people get some kind of status, they do politics at the same time.” The category of work you do. I play football because I am the best at playing football.

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“I don't do politics. If I were a politician, I would do politics. It's the first mistake that people make when they become famous and they reach a certain position. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best. Do it. It doesn't look good. “

Despite James answering, Ibrahimovic said on Tuesday, “ “Racism and politics are two different things. We athletes unite the world, politics divides the world.”

For James, it is a familiar feeling. This is a message sent to him over the years, most famously by television presenter Laura Ingrahm, the originator of the now-infamous “Shut Up and Dribble” quip.

For years, James has been one of the sport's most vocal athletes, and he has become one of the sport's most consistent goals because of it.

James, in many ways, represents the latest generation of athletes. He is clearly a sports star at first, but his push into other avenues, such as his minority ownership of Liverpool, makes him quite a businessman.

In the NBA, they have ushered in a new era of player eligibility, with the league's top stars now having more power over their futures than ever before. And, far from the court, he has played a major role in social activism, following in the footsteps of titles such as Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Karim Abdul-Jabbar in using his platform to inspire social change.

Now is a new generation: the athlete who cares. This is a massive change when vocal sports stars were few and far between; A minority that made headlines only sporadically, such as during the 1968 Olympic men's 200-meter medal ceremony.

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But as the world has changed around them, activism in sports is no exception, but the norm.

Consider Naomi Osaka, now a four-time Tennis Grand Slam tournament winner, but deeply involved in social activism. Colin Kaepernick's anthem protests in the NFL continue worldwide.

Look at Megan Rapinoe and the American women's national team, Who have spent years fighting the battle for gender equality and equal pay. The top stars of USWNT had all different points of view in that fight, with Rapinoe being the farthest and most vocal, but his unification for that common goal has mixed sports and politics unlike any other team Which came in front of them.

Or look at the MLS and the Black Players for Change organization formed in the wake of protests after the death of George Floyd. The organization, which has more than 170 players, coaches and employees in MLS Is actively working with the league to promote diversity Fighting over the system preventing black people from equal opportunities in American football.

You can also see US Soccer as a whole, as the annual general meeting this past weekend was surrounded by controversies. Speaking in favor of re-enacting the federation's national anthem policy, Seth Zahn, a member of a seven-party Paralympic team, made his argument by reducing the effects of slavery.

Jahan said, “I keep hearing how our country was set on the backs of slaves, even as only 8 percent of the entire population was slaves.”

“Every race has been enslaved by another demographic at some point in the history of mankind. Blacks have been enslaved. Hispanics have been enslaved. Asians, most recently in our country in the 20th century, More slaves. Slaves. Whites were enslaved.

“Where were the warriors of social justice and the news journalists there to bring their light to these real atrocities? And yet in all history, only one country has fought to end slavery, the , where 400,000 People were killed to fight? To eradicate slavery under the same stars and bars that our athletes kneel. Their sacrifices are made by every knee that touches the ground. “


Such debates, discussions, and disputes are not bound only to the United States, however. Marcus Rashford is perhaps the most famous example of football with the Manchester United star Advocating children earned him the most recognition in England.

Rahim Sterling is One of the many stars of the Premier League battling racism While Juan Mata established the Common Goal, An organization that encourages footballers to donate 1 percent of their wages to help the UN's global goals to end extreme poverty by 2030.

And let's not forget Ibrahimovic, Who promoted the United Nations World Food Program back in 2015 And who in 2018 used their own platform to speak out about racism in Sweden.

He said, “What does the Swedish media do? They defend me or they jump on me and attack me? They still attack me, because they cannot accept that I am Ibrahimovic,” he said Told canal +.

“If another player makes a mistake with me, they will defend it. But when it comes to me, they don't defend me.

“It's about racism. It's about racism. I don't say racism, but I say undercover is racism.”

“It exists, I'm 100 percent sure. Because I'm not Anderson or Svensson. If I do, trust me, they will defend me even if I rob a bank. They will defend me, I tell you Am. “

Ibrahimovic will be familiar with James' own story after spending two seasons in the US with LA Galaxy, just as James was with him. Both are largely figures, both in the US and abroad, and their recent war made mainstream news because of it.

The pair are legitimate sporting icons, and both have much more than the usual ones, including perhaps their own.

Ibrahimovic, like James, has used his platform to speak about the issues he sees in . And Ibrahimovic, like James, has been influenced by his own rags-to-riches journey that has brought him a tough upbringing to become an international superstar.

Calling James out, Ibrahimovic said that activism is fine, as long as it is his own activism.


James said, “It's ridiculous that he said that because I believe that in 2018 he is the same man who said that when he was coming back to Sweden, he was talking about the same things.” “Because his last name was not a fixed last name, he felt like there was some racism going on while he was out on the pitch.”

“They said okay? Yes. I felt they said that. I speak with a very educated mind. I am the wrong man because I do my homework.”

This is the new generation of athletes: the one who does his homework. Gone are the days when athletes did not care about the world around them. Times have changed, and with it the world of a superstar athlete has changed.

In the era of social media, the public constantly politics of different scales. Everyone has an issue they are passionate about, whatever it may be, and they are lucky to be able to act on it.

James and Ibrahimovic have talked about racism, Rashford, and poverty about Mother, Rapinoe and the USWTT. All very different and very important battles are strengthened by the names mentioned with them.

Telling athletes to stay out of politics is no different than asking your local cashier, waitress, teacher or mechanic to do so. Politics affects everyday life. Why shouldn't they care?

Athletes have both the stage and the power to care. Every sports star can do it or not, and that's fine. But for people like James, Rapinoe and Rashford, the time away from the court or field is the time that can be used to influence the world around them.

The games proved to be a handicap for that first. not anymore.

Ibrahimovic can stick to all the games he wants because he has the freedom to do so. But he, like James, has the ability to say and do.

As the Swedish star's world changes, they need to take .

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