With an elevated platform, NBA players are sharing their thoughts on different societal issues, including mental health and gun control.

The recent dialogues focused on issues ranging from mental health to gun control demonstrates the huge stamp today’s NBA has upon society.

Both traditional and new media have become full of division, hostility and trolling. Yet professional basketball has risen up to become a place where voices on society’s pressing issues can be heard. From President Trump to speaking out on social issues, NBA players are becoming reflective voices amid the noise.

 

“Shut Up and Dribble”

Last month, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham criticized Cavaliers star LeBron James for his criticism of President Trump, telling the superstar to “shut up and dribble.”

James, instead of lashing out to Ingraham, made a point saying he’s not just a basketball player, but also a social influence who’s voice goes beyond the court.

“I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids who feel like they don’t have a way out, and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in,” James said. “I get to sit up here and talk about social justice.”

Other athletes came to the defense of James, including former Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Bryant is just one of many individuals that is way more than a basketball player, with the five-time NBA champion going into the film and investment industries following his retirement. During Sunday’s Academy Awards, he took a jab at Ingraham’s comments:

Outside of NBA players, Eagles lineman Chris Long came to James’ defense. Long shared a thread of entertainers and sports figures who previously made an appearance as FOX News guests who the network apparently felt were more qualified to have political opinions:

For James, Bryant, Long and other athletes to come out and voice their opinions, it shows athletes are more than dribbling the ball or shooting baskets; they are role models that people look up to as a social influence for society.

 

Gun Control

Heat star Dwyane Wade has become one of the central voices on the conversation surrounding gun control. With the recent massacre that took 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, including Joaquin Oliver who was later buried in Wade’s jersey, the 12-time All-Star dedicated the NBA season to the student’s family and the school.

On Wednesday, Wade made a surprise visit to MSD High School and met with students and teachers, in effort to keep the conversation going on gun control.

In 2016, Wade advocated for tougher gun laws in Chicago following the fatal shooting of his cousin in the city.

“For our family, it was very tough,” Wade said. “The headlines alone — mother walking down the street, registering her kids in school, a mother of four gets murdered — it’s tough to deal with.”

The recent shooting in Parkland, Fla. also inspired former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash to write a piece for The Players’ Tribune advocating for gun control.

Gun control is one of the most pressing issues the nation continues to face. With athletes like Wade going into the community to educate and talk about gun control, it is an important effort to get the ball rolling on future reform.

 

President Trump

Since Donald Trump became President of the United States, there have been many vocal critiques from NBA teams, coaches and players.

Following the Warriors’ NBA Championship victory last June, Stephen Curry, Head Coach Steve Kerr and other members of the team would not commit to a White House trip to visit Trump.

The President then took to Twitter to withdraw the team’s invitation, prompting multiple responses, including one from James.

Instead of visiting the White House, the Warriors toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture with a group of local students.

During the preseason, many Clippers players and coaches touched upon the state of the country. Clippers guard Austin Rivers had a message for the president in regards to NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.

“If Donald Trump did his job, players wouldn’t be kneeling, you know, at the end of the day,” Rivers said. “Because I don’t think anyone wants this country to do poorly, we all are cheering for this country to do well, so do your job and players will stop kneeling.”

Kerr and Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich continue to be critical of Trump’s presidency. Prior to the Warriors’ trip to Washington D.C. on Mar. 1, Kerr compared Trump to Brick Tamland, a character from the movie “Anchorman.”

“He reminded me of ‘Anchorman’ when Brick ends up on the wrong side of the fight and he’s like ‘yeah’ and they’re like ‘no, no Brick you’re on this side,’” Kerr said.

In recent months, Popovich described Trump as a “soulless coward” and called “our country an embarrassment to the world.”

Coaches usually play second fiddle to their players. However, in a time where sports, politics and social issues are intertwined, the NBA’s two loudest advocates have been coaches.

 

Mental Health

Last month, Raptors star DeMar DeRozan tweeted out seven shocking words.

Despite his on-court success and million dollar salary, the four-time NBA All-Star opened up to the Toronto Star about his battle with depression. He also stated many players go through what he is going through:

“It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day. We all got feelings . . . all of that. Sometimes . . . it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”

Within the span of a few weeks, many fellow NBA players shared their personal struggles with mental health. Cavaliers star Kevin Love wrote a heartfelt essay for The Players’ Tribune on his own recent battles with panic attacks and anxiety:

“Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need.”

The Wizards’ Kelly Oubre Jr. also shared his struggles with anxiety and depression with NBC Sports Washington. Suddenly, NBA players have shined a light to kickstart a much needed conversation on mental health.

Mental health is a topic that many, especially males, won’t discuss with people close to them, much less the people around them. For them to open up to others about their struggles, it initiates others to feel comfortable sharing their stories and enter the conversation.

With all the different issues our society is facing, having athletes come out to speak their minds is very reassuring. Athletes are trying to initiate conversations during a hyper-political period.

Not only for NBA players, but for you, the reader, your voice is too important to let it stay silent. Standing up for what you believe in can start a wave of much-needed discussion.

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Photo by Spark Sports Illustration // Courtesy of Getty Images

Follow Arthur Puu on Twitter: @arthurpuu