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Michael vs LeBron

This is not a discussion on who is the GOAT of NBA basketball. There are strong cases to be made for both. This is about Michael Jordan’s unwillingness to speak out politically versus LeBron James’ willingness to inject his opinion on all types of political or societal issues. When asked why he didn’t publicly support Harvey Gantt, Dem-NC, for Senator, Jordan famously said, “Republicans buy shoes too.” James has not been so cautious to make public statements and take political stances. He tweets and is quoted on many society issues all the time. Maybe Jordan was solely interested in lining his pockets while LeBron is interested in making the world a better place. Or maybe it’s something else all together.

Maybe Michael Jordan shied away from using his name and brand politically because he did not want to speak out on issues that he was not fully versed in. Or maybe he did not want his name exploited by a corrupt political culture to sway voters for a candidate or a cause, rather than the politicians doing the work to convince the voters they are the better candidate because of their political stances.

And maybe LeBron’s willingness to speak out on issues is his attempt to craft an image which elevates his stature and legacy in the eyes of the media and the public just as long as his “brave” stances have been pre-approved by today’s media and twitter culture.

I am not in the camp that tells athletes to “shut up and dribble”. No one should ever be told not to voice their opinion. In America, everyone has the right to their opinion and the right to express it. What becomes dangerous is when star appeal gives instant credibility to the opinions of people who have not attained the education, experience or knowledge which merits that level of credibility. Having the ability to dunk a basketball or shoot a three point shot, does not make someone an expert on foreign relations or domestic political issues anymore than it makes that person capable of performing open heart surgery.

This does not mean that the opinions of professional athletes or entertainers should be immediately disregarded anymore than they should be instantly accepted. To gain credibility of their opinions, it is incumbent on the athlete and everyone, for that matter, to support their opinions with hard evidence and coherent reasoning. Otherwise, their opinions should be treated the same way as the guy at the end of the bar spewing his random political musings. It’s easy for anyone to look at a headline and spout out about it. It’s dangerous, if someone with the wide ranging influence of Michael Jordan and LeBron James does it. Being an accomplished professional athlete does not allow him to skip key academic and intellectual steps in political discourse and intellectual debates. You can’t go into a courtroom and say, I averaged 31 points a game in the NBA, therefore my client is innocent. It doesn’t work that way.

Using your name and brand to sway elections and political discourse is much different and greatly more important than doing so to sell Gatorade, deodorant or sneakers. In the end, is society really impacted if the majority of the people use Right Guard or Old Spice? Of course not. The use of a famous name or a brand to sell consumer products is mostly innocuous. It can be dangerous in politics because it is vital for a strong and sustainable Constitutional Republic that the citizens decide who they will vote for or which side of an issue they stand based on independent study, facts and reason, and not simply because they want to be like Mike.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind