Speaking in an interview for UEFA for Discovery+ in Sweden on Thursday, the outspoken striker said while he admired James’ talent, it’s a “mistake” when athletes step out of their lane and get involved socially and politically.
“[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. “Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football.
“I don’t do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”
James has been a force for social change and political action. His More Than a Vote organization drew more than 42,000 volunteers to work at polling stations for the November election, helped some earn back their voting rights and pushed for turnout among Black and young voters.
He has also focused on his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
The I Promise School he opened in 2018 now has over 450 students in third through sixth grades. When the pandemic shut down the school, James and his team ensured students got hot meals delivered to their homes — even complete Thanksgiving meals. An affordable housing project for 50 families broke ground this year. And this month, plans for House Three Thirty (a nod to Akron’s area code) were announced, detailing how James is going to offer things like accessible family financial health programming, job training and a community gathering space.
“I still know what I do on the floor, and obviously, I give everything to the game,” James told The Associated Press in December. “But I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor. And I want to continue to inspire people with the way I play the game of basketball. But there’s so many more things that I can do off the floor to help cultivate people, inspire people, bring people together, empower them.”
His outspokenness hasn’t always been well-received, however. In February of 2018, a prominent conservative commentator famously told him to “shut up and dribble” in response to his “talking politics.”
Ibrahimovic has made headlines for acrobatic goals, bombastic boasts and on-field controversy throughout his wildly successful soccer career.
In January, he faced accusations of racism following a clash with Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku during a Coppa Italia quarterfinal clash. Ibrahimovic, who often refers to himself in the third person, was accused of having used offensive language during his spat with Lukaku and later posted a message on social media reiterating he is against racism, with his coach later backing his claims.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.