'Shut up and play' is an old adage bitter commentators and fans remark when their favourite athlete ventures outside the pitch and into politics. Hearing one athlete relay the same message to another is a rarer sight.
In a recent interview with Discovery+ Sport in Sweden, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the nation’s star footballer, broke the mold. The AC Milan forward spoke admirably of LeBron James for his on-court play, but had more critical words for what the LA Lakers player does off it.
Zlatan’s harsh words
'[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he's doing, but I don't like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time,' Ibrahimovic said. He continued:
Do what you're good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best at playing football.
Fans are unclear why the Swede, who used to play in LA as well, brought up the subject of politics and LeBron specifically. Regardless, LeBron responded publicly with a measured take. Jamessaid in a post-game scrum:
I preach about my people, and I preach about equality. Social injustice. Racism. Systematic voter suppression. Things that go on in our community.
The 36-year-old, four-time NBA Finals champion went on to reference his community work, including the I Promise School he founded in Akron, Ohio. The school provides free tuition, transportation, and meals to 300 kids every day.
Since the initial back-and-forth, Ibrahimovic has reiterated his stance in another press conference that 'athletes unite the world and politicians divide it.'
A history of being outspoken by both superstars
James has never shied away from speaking out against injustices. Following a series of high-profile murders of Black people by police in the United States last year, James expressed his outrage publicly, even once wearing a modified MAGA hat that read, 'Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.'
Ibrahimovic has also spoken about racism in Sweden before. In 2018, he criticized the Swedish press for attacking him more because of 'undercover racism' and being an immigrant without a traditional Swedish name.