I’m ambivalent about athletes and celebrities voicing their political opinions. On the one hand, they have every right to speak up as the rest of us, and if they think they can use their fame to help spread a message that they believe in, I can’t really blame them.
On the other hand, it can be annoying. Eddie Vedder went off on an anti-Bush tangent during Pearl Jam’s Bonnaroo performance, which kinda bugged me. Hell, I agree with Eddie Vedder! I’m no fan of Bush either. But I wasn’t at a politcal rally, I was at a concernt (and not even a Pearl Jam concert, a festival with 100s of musicians). It wasn’t like I was mad, just mildy annoyed.
But I wouldn’t mind more athletes speaking up, especially since our major sports are dominated by minorities, those whose voices aren’t normally heard on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News (you know, our national discourse). Not that I blame them for keeping quite. They’re in the entertainment and money making business (“republicans buy shoes too”) so keeping their opinions to themselves and not rocking the boat makes sense.
That being said, I do enjoy (for multiple reasons) seeing LeBron make his first real non-canned public statement:
James has lavished a little more than 0.1 percent of his 2008-09 salary of $14.4 million on the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, according to Federal Election Commission records. In June, the Cavaliers star donated $20,000 to the Democratic White House Victory Fund, a joint committee set up by Obama and the Democratic Party for the presidential race.
Supporting a political candidate is a risky move for an athlete who has a $100 million contract with Nike, and depends on shoe sales for part of his income. But in this case it’s not foolish, according to one sports marketing expert.
“If you’re going to go with someone and be vocal about it, Obama does seem to be a pretty safe choice,” said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Partners. “He’s the candidate of youth and change, and the media darling. I can’t see it really hurting LeBron that much to get behind him.”
Still, it marks the first time that James has taken a political stand, and the first time he has broken from the advice of his childhood hero, Michael Jordan. When Jordan once declined to endorse a Democratic candidate, His Airness famously explained, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”
James, though, appears to be vocal about his fondness for Obama. In June, he and girlfriend Savannah Brinson were part of a group that had dinner with Obama and his wife, Michelle, in New York.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” James told the Associated Press. “It was mind-boggling.”
At the time James said he wasn’t going to campaign for either presidential candidate.
“I’m not so far into it, I don’t feel I need to be hands-on into it,” he said. “You want to keep athletics and politics separate. I don’t want to start getting up on panels or talking about Barack or [John] McCain. I’m aware of what’s going on not just with the presidential election. You want to be aware of gas prices and other things. Being a father and being responsible for my kids, I want to know what’s going on in our world.”
Last year, James declined to sign former Cavalier guard Ira Newble’s petition condemning China’s association with Darfur and genocide in the region, citing a lack of knowledge about the situation. But in May, James said he would lend his voice to shed light on the Sudan region if it would help end the conflict.
Again, supporting a major presidental candidate isn’t exactly going out on a limb… and Obama isn’t exactly unpopular… but still, I do enjoy seeing him take this small step. And if he chooses his spots wisely (and by all accounts, he probably will), this is a development I welcome. It makes him a tad more human.
Plus, aren’t athletes with opinions a little more interesting?