Celebrities have different responsibilities than regular citizens
In a recent car interview called “Rolling With The Champion,” NBA star Lebron James offered his criticism of President Trump in response to a question on the current political climate and the role of professional athletes with a platform.
This spawned backlash from conservatives, headed by Fox News host Laura Ingraham whose “stick to sports” take on the situation consequently led to backlash from liberals.
This specific issue seems like another opportunity for liberals and conservatives to go at it, distracting from the more pressing issues that beg attention. However, there is a relevant concern at the heart of this incident that goes deeper than Team Lebron or Team Laura.
Whether or not you want to admit it, celebrities are shaping the current political climate in a significant way and the million dollar question is if they have the right to use their platforms to do this.
Let me preface my argument by saying I vehemently disagree with any derivative of the “stick to sports” mantra. This not only implies that people exist in relegated boxes that are somehow impervious to the problems the rest of the world faces, but also discourages active participation in politics and, by extension, the central moral and ethical debates that allow our world to progress.
Everybody has a right to offer their opinion and should never be excluded from the conversation because they have an expertise in another area. Lebron James is an NBA star, but I would expect him to speak out on any issue he feels empowers or infringes on his rights, just as I would expect my neighbor Joe to.
However, Lebron James’ status as an NBA star dictates he can influence millions of people with what he says, giving him a responsibility that my neighbor Joe does not have. This responsibility comes with any platform, be it political, religious or academic and that is the responsibility of coming prepared.
By coming prepared I mean putting in the time, doing the research and groundwork and having adequate experience to assume that platform.
Lebron James has not shown me, other than through unsupported quips at the current political state of our country and its leader, that he is engaged in the conversation, that he has done his research or that he has the political experience or knowledge to back his stance.
Now my neighbor Joe may be spouting off his opinions at the local grocery store with the political qualifications equivalent to those of my miniature poodle, but Joe is not influencing millions of people with his unjustified claims.
To be clear, I am not saying that James’ stance is wrong or right. I am saying that I do not think newscasters should peddle his opinions to the population as news and a valid source of political commentary until he has the educational credentials for them to do so.
Celebrities have earned a platform that I believe they have a right to take advantage of—provided they recognize their responsibility and educate themselves before tackling an issue.
Being a celebrity does not inherently make them an expert on social or political issues. But if a talented athlete, actor or musician happens to also be an experienced and knowledgeable patron of political or social issues, they have earned a right to be consulted by serious news outlets. In fact, more power to them.
Grace Wallin is a sophomore English and Spanish major from Sioux Falls, S. D.
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