In the wake of, much of the discussion Saturday has gone toward the comparison between today's largely sanitized athletes when it comes to matters of race or politics, and the outspoken Ali, who openly criticized not only American race relations and inequality, but the Vietnam War, to the point that he refused draft service and was eventually fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in prison. (Ali was free during the time of his appeal and his conviction was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.)
On Saturday at Finals availability, the NBA's two biggest stars, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, were asked about their contrasting roles in speaking out on social matters in the aftermath of Ali's death. LeBron has taken a more outspoken approach, commenting on the death of Trayvon Martin and those involved in police shootings, while Curry has been more reserved.
James was asked Saturday about "putting himself out there" on those issues, and his response was thoughtful and insightful.
I just think it's in you. If it's in you, then it will be brought to light. If it's not, then it won't. I would never compare myself to Muhammad Ali because I never had to go through what those guys had to go through back in those times. But in my own daily struggles, as I continue to say, growing up in the inner city, being a statistic that was supposed to go the other way and I'm able to sit up here today and knowing that I was a guy who beat the odds, it's just you never take for granted the path and the guys who just every single day just struggled in their individual lives and everything they had to go through on a daily basis for us, for a guy like myself.Yes, I've had some adverse moments in my life and, yes, I've had to deal with a lot of things as a professional, and I've spoken up on a lot of issues that other athletes may not speak upon, but I feel it's my duty to carry on the legacy of the guys who did it before me.
Curry, on the other hand, took a far more tepid approach, explaining how it can be "tricky," and indicating that it's a person-to-person thing.
"It depends on how you see your platform and why I'm sitting up here and why I get blessed with the ability to impact people whether it's how I play or what I say. I don't take that lightly and obviously I have certain beliefs and certain things that if you ask me I'll tell you. For the most part, as an athlete you are somewhat of a role model whether you like it or not. And being sensitive to certain situations and to the current events that are going on, you've got to have a certain stand. It is very tricky at times because you're either on one side or the other and you're going to offend somebody or not. It kind of just comes with the territory and whether you think that's important or not, that depends on the person. So, Ali was the example of how you use your platform and speak what you believe no matter what people are saying. Look at him, there's a sense of confidence in that regard, for sure."
Source: ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports.
While it's an interesting contrast between the two icons of the sport, where James has always embraced, and really pushed to be at the face of the league, willing to embrace the responsibilities and criticism that comes with it, Curry just seems to be trying to be the best player he can be while being a role model for his fans.
There's plenty to debate about the responsibilities of an athlete, but both James and Curry seem intent on trying to do their best to navigate what is a complex and delicate balance in the many roles they're asked to play as public figures.