Athletes, Politics, and Twitter

We live in an age when celebrities have a huge platform, and they need to be responsible.

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We live in a world of mass media, where ideas are spread in a matter of minutes and just about anyone can respond to just about anything. Platforms like Twitter are powerful enough for the average user, but when given to celebrities, their influence is magnified, reaching an audience of millions. Naturally, not everyone will agree with all of the posts they see on social media, which has led to a culture of arguing, lies, and insults that has penetrated every facet of modern life, sports notwithstanding.

This culture was evident this week as several athletes quarrelled over the shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black woman from Columbus who was fatally shot by a police officer after brandishing a knife at other women. Many athletes took to social media to vent frustration and sadness regarding the event. Some players, however, took it a step farther, denouncing the officer and demanding justice. The biggest example of this response was a tweet by LeBron James reading, “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY.” This tweet was in clear reference to the trial of Derek Chauvin, coincidentally on the same day as Bryant’s death, that ended with Chauvin being found guilty for the murder of George Floyd. James’s sentiment was echoed across the country, where it was met with major backlash. Critics of the tweet were quick to point out that Bryant could have killed the other women, saying the officer is a hero, not a murderer. More people were angry at the tone of the tweet, which some interpreted as a threat to the officer. The internet was ablaze as people debated the event.

While many of those responding with an opinion were average people, athletes also chimed in. Top UFC Welterweight contender Colby Covington tweeted, “Painting targets on the backs of innocent officers is so brave and courageous @KingJames! You’re a real hero… to the [P]eople’s [R]epublic of China.”

Furthermore, former MLB player Aubrey Huff tweeted, “Hey @KingJames go [EXPLETIVE] yourself for doxing a police officer for just doing his job. I’d bet if that was your son about to get stabbed you’d be singing a different tune you piece of [EXPLETIVE]! You’re a huge reason the @NBA is down 80 [percent] in viewership within the last year.” He added, “Today is the day when @KingJames[’s] legacy will be irrelevant to most all Americans. May want to move to China [EXPLETIVE] stick!” These tweets show not only anger about James’s tweet, but they also address another point made against James, his stance on China, as well as act as a personal attack. It should be mentioned that James has never explicitly said he supports China. However, he has been criticized because he has never clearly denounced China and its numerous human rights violations.

Covington’s tweet has over 8,000 likes and was viewed by his almost 300 thousand followers. Huff’s earlier tweet was liked over 23 thousand times and viewed by his 200 thousand followers. These numbers are huge but are dwarfed by James, who has 50 million followers. The point is, athletes have massive platforms that influence the opinions and actions of many. When used right, these accounts can be used for so much good. James raises millions for charity and brings awareness to racial injustice throughout the country. Covington is an avid supporter of our nation’s soldiers, honoring them for the incredible sacrifices they make.

James’s tweet is now deleted, and in a later tweet, he said, “I fueled the wrong conversation about [Bryant], and I owe it to her and this movement to change it.” Covington and Huff’s accusations about James are an unfair attack on someone for his employer’s actions. Huff has also spread a large amount of misinformation about COVID-19 and its vaccine, mild compared to his calling murderer Kyle Rittenhouse a “national treasure” for shooting two people protesting the murder of Jacob Blake. Tweeting attacks and falsehoods is dangerous, and when done by prominent figures, can lead to events like the January 6 riots and the infamous Unite the Right rallies.

That said, Twitter and other platforms can also be a place where positive interactions occur. J.J. Watt used his social media platforms to raise $37 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Serena Williams has used the Internet to celebrate the impact of Black women in America. Megan Rapinoe has fought for eliminating the gender wage gap. All of these actions are only a tiny fraction of the great things these athletes are doing. These websites are important because social interaction is a crucial part of our society, and it is encouraged. However, when things that should not be posted are, there needs to be action. Censorship is not the answer, but neither is having no accountability. Athletes, as well as other celebrities, have a responsibility to use their platforms for good, and we are straying from that obligation.