They are heavyweights in their respective sporting categories and when they go toe to toe in any debate, the world pays attention. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a football giant physically and because of the way he sends shivers down the spine of most defenders. One thing he does not lack is confidence both on and off the pitch. He is self-opinionated and usually he declares, “Ibra is always right!”
In the other corner, there is basketball legend LeBron James, a giant who has dominated the National Basketball Association league for decades. He too has an opinion on many societal issues and is not afraid to express them. He uses his platform as a basketball legend to highlight social injustices. For this he has clashed with Ibra who has asked him to “Stay in his lane ” literally.
Ibra fired the first shot, “I do not like it when people with status speak about politics, that is the first mistake people do when they become famous, do what you are good at doing and avoid politics. I am the best at playing football and I play football ” he declared setting him on a collision course with LeBron James.
This reprimand by Zlatan drew a robust response from the basketball legend. , ” I will never shut up about things that are wrong, i preach about my people, i preach about equality, social justice, racism, voter suppression, things that go on in our community!” LeBron said.
The legend also quickly reminded Zlatan about his interview with the BBC in which he hinted on racism. In that interview he said, ” Because of my surname I have been treated differently from other athletes in Sweden. I don’t say there is racism but I say there is undercover racism”. Because of this statement, I find it unfair that Zlatan can have the guts to stop LeBron from highlighting the injustices that he sees in society. The man speaks with a forked tongue.
Which beggars the question, should famous athletes stay aloof from the societal issues and” stay in their lanes” as advised by Zlatan.
Allow me a detour into ancient Greek history and explore an idea planted in me by my football brother Victor Mubaya. The Greeks made important contributions to philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. Modern day societies still borrow heavily from this ancient wisdom.
In a football discussion with the man I call Bla Vhikella, he reminded me thus, ” Do you know that the Greeks classified people into three categories, Idiots, Tribalists and Citizens, find out where many people fit!” I felt challenged and began to read more about this classification.
The definition of Idiots as given by the Greeks is not anywhere near what many of us in modern society assume. We assume that an Idiot is close to be an imbecile, one who is mentally challenged.
The Greeks saw it differently. They defined an idiot as not mentally deficient but as a private citizen who is self centred. One who only thinks about himself, their own pleasures and treasures. They care very little about what happens outside their sphere and often refuse to engage with issues that do not impact them directly.
There is also a category of people known as tribalists who exhibit a tribal mentality. If your total allegiance is to the tribe, then you become a tribalist. Belonging to a tribe is a natural element but to be hostile to anything outside you tribe is to become a tribalist.
The third category are the Citizens. These strive for the common good of the country and the nation. A Citizen will fight for his rights and also for the rights of others. The Citizen desires all to have equal rights and opportunities.
This is a watered down version of this societal theory as presented by the ancient Greeks. For purposes of our discussion, i decided to simplify it.
I have seen a lot of athletes taking up prominent roles in highlighting social issues which can be addressed through political intervention. Footballers have joined the Black Lives Matter cause by taking the knee before every match although fatigue is beginning to creep in. The gesture has become perfunctory.
Marcus Rashford the Manchester United striker has taken the government head on in fighting for free school meals for deprived students. For that he received a knighthood. Raheem Sterling has led the anti racism fight in football and has demanded fair coverage of players by the media. Lewis Hamilton has led the struggle for more access to the world of formula one for black and ethnic minorities.
With Covid 19 depriving many young people the opportunity to attend school, Maro Itoje the rugby star is leading the fight for more digital equipment for students from poor backgrounds both black and white. He wants every student to have digital access so that they do not lag behind their more privileged counterparts in the UK. ” I know the value of education and i do not want any child to be deprived ” he said.
Who can forget Didier Drobga bringing the warring parties in Ivory Coast together and making them smoke the peace pipe?
More and more , famous athletes are using their prominent status to raise awareness on topical issues. Politicians have been forced to act. This should be applauded.
Even Zlatan himself once donated to a disabled team from Sweden which wanted to go for a tournament. He also helped to raise Covid Funds for Italy at the height of the pandemic according to reports on line. It might not be exactly political in his eyes, but it shows social awareness on his part. Why then should he pick topics for others to raise their voices on?
Athletes like LeBron and Rashford know the value of their voices. In the eyes of the ancient Greeks, they are being Citizens. Which makes me wonder dear reader why the self-proclaimed ” demi-god ” of football, Zlatan Ibrahamivic has come out all guns blazing against these voices which he has decided to label as political.
I leave you to make your judgement!