Story By Brian Beltran
With social media at the world’s fingertips, fans can connect to pro athletes easier than ever before. But with NBA superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry logging into Twitter and Instagram daily, does the NBA need to regulate how athletes use their social media accounts?
“Shut up and dribble.”
Outrage followed as Fox News reporter, Laura Ingraham proclaimed that sports icon LeBron James should stick to playing basketball and ditch talking politics. James, of course, is not only the face of the NBA, but one of the most outspoken pro athletes in modern history.
Earlier this year, James and fellow NBA star Kevin Durant were featured in a Sports Illustrated segment where they spoke out about President Donald Trump’s frequent racist and inappropriate narratives. Ingraham suggested that pro athletes have no place speaking out on issues that they are experts on.
“It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” Ingraham said
James and the rest of the NBA did not take her comments lightly. Pro athletes with the stature of Durant and James are more than superhuman entertainers. They firmly believe they should use their platform as global icons to speak out against injustices and inspire the youth to spearhead change in our country.
An NBA player travels thousands of miles every season. Going from city to city on back-to-back nights to get practice time before their next game is often exhausting. With such a hectic schedule, pro ballers turn to social media as a healthy distraction. This is where they can catch up on current events and trending topics. It’s also where they can share their opinions and make them public knowledge.
With the critique from reporters like Ingraham and politicians like President Trump, do athletes feel the pressure to just “shut up and dribble?” The simple answer is no. Athletes have persistently argued that it is their right and social responsibility to make their voices heard.
Aside from talking politics, which is often the most controversial, athletes have also toed the line of what’s appropriate on other fronts.
When Kevin Durant gets into heated arguments with fans on Twitter, or Draymond Green accidentally posts a sexually explicit photo on Snapchat, what happens to the image of the NBA?
Social media can be a powerful tool, but when misused, can be seen as a toxic outlet for inappropriate content. Green immediately deleted the photo and apologized following his accidental, awkward showcase, but Durant unapologetically continues to get into spirited dialogues with passionate fans.
The NBA therefore is put into an uncomfortable situation. They are often praised for being the most player and fan-friendly professional sports league. However, they can’t afford for players to harm their public image by acting irresponsibly on social media.
With 27 million Twitter followers and 31 million on Instagram, the NBA is by far the most interactive sports league on the internet. The league often supports their athletes being active on these media outlets. Commissioner Adam Silver has pioneered the NBA into the online era since he took over the league in 2015.
“We look at social media data every day to see how many people are following the league, our teams, and individual players,” said Silver.
The athletes themselves have acknowledged that social media can be a harmful distraction, though. LeBron James infamously goes into “Zero Dark Thirty Mode” during the postseason, meaning he abstains from any interaction with online or broadcast media until the playoffs conclude.
“There’s too much nonsense out there. This is when I lock in right now, and I don’t need nothing creeping into my mind that don’t need to be there,” said James.
Steph Curry was also known to browse Instagram and Twitter during halftime of every game. This habit went the wayside during the 2015 NBA Finals when Curry realized the consequences it had on his game.
“If you let any ounce of negativity or one terrible comment creep in, especially right before a game or at halftime, it’s probably not the best bet,” Curry said.
The Los Angeles Lakers have a promising future with young stars Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma on the roster. The two of them are known for their immense upside and talent for basketball, but they may be known even better for their off-the-court comedy genius. Their pranks and social media wars were immensely entertaining. However, after their antics got more serious, the team’s front office had to privately insist that the young Lakers back off of their online behavior.
When examples like these are analyzed, social media is clearly a problem. However, when you look back at athletes using it as a platform to be social activists, social media is clearly a positive thing. So which outweighs the other?
President Trump and conservative media choose to blast outspoken athletes for talking politics or raising controversial issues to the public, but the NBA supports their right to do so. Fans of the sport love interacting with their favorite athletes, whether positive or negative, and the youth generation feels empowered by their icons joining their movements for social and political change.
The NBA’s presence of social media is here to stay. Twitter and Instagram users should embrace this wave of pro athletes being active online. Critics should consider how powerful of a support base these athletes have, and should refrain from making enemies with the wrong player because their voices will not be silenced.