LeBron James, again told to stick to sports, shuts down soccer star’s suggestion

Detroit News

Glynn A. Hill
 |  Washington Post

Zlatan Ibrahimovic felt wronged.

The Swedish striker starred for Manchester United in 2018 when he said he was unduly attacked by his home country’s sports media because he lacked a traditional Swedish last name. He spoke out about the perceived injustice to French media and blamed “undercover racism.”

Three years later, Ibrahimovic, apparently repelled by LeBron James and other basketball players’ outspoken positions on sociopolitical issues, said in an interview Thursday the Los Angeles Lakers star should to stick to sports, prompting James to swat away that suggestion.

“I would never shut up about things that’s wrong,” James said after the Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night. “I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social injustice, racism, systematic voter suppression, things that go on in our community.

“I 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, referencing the Akron, Ohio public school his foundation financially supports. “I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on not only in my community and around the world. There’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how powerful this platform and my voice is.”

Ibrahimovic’s comments came in an interview with Discovery Plus. The AC Milan forward said James is “phenomenal at what he is doing, but I don’t like when people, when they have some kind of status, and they do politics at the same time [as] what they are doing. I mean, do what you’re good at.

“That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and become a certain status. Stay out of it; just do what you’re best at because it doesn’t look good.”

A month after Ibrahimovic voiced his complaints about racism in 2018, Fox News host Laura Ingraham told James and Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant to “keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble,” after the duo criticized former president Donald Trump.

Facing criticism for her stance, Ingraham issued a statement doubling down on it: “If pro athletes and entertainers want to freelance as political pundits, then they should not be surprised when they’re called out for insulting politicians.”

James responded the following day: “It lets me know that everything I’ve been saying is correct, for her to have that type of reaction.”

“But we will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will definitely not do that. I mean too much to society, I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out, and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.”

James reiterated his commitment to speaking out last year, after Ingraham offered a markedly different response to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’s opposition to taking a knee during the national anthem.

Ibrahimovic, who was born in Sweden to a Bosnian father and Croatian mother, said in 2018 that the Swedish press was overly critical of him because of his surname.

“What does the Swedish media do? They defend me or do they jump on and attack me? They still attack me, because they cannot accept that I am Ibrahimovic,” he told Canal Plus, a French TV station.

“This is about racism. I don’t say there is racism but I say there is undercover racism. This exists, I am 100 percent sure. Because I am not Andersson or Svensson. If I would be that, trust me, they would defend me even if I would rob a bank.”

James pointed to the contradiction in Ibrahimovic’s comments.

“It’s funny he said that because I believe in 2018 he was the same guy who said . . . because his last name wasn’t a certain last name that he felt like there was some racism going on,” James said. “I’m the wrong guy to go at because I do my homework.”

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