Should celebrities be able to use their social influence?

If you follow professional basketball, you know that the Los Angeles Lakers have been a bit of a mess this year.  Ironically, their team dynamics and drama have gotten them more press than usual.  They’ve fired their head coach, had a slew of injuries and traded for an under-performing star player.  In the midst of all of the craziness, one of the constants has been their resident superstar player Kobe Bryant.  He is outspoken, brash and an extraordinary player.  He’s also got 1.2 million Twitter followers.

Should Kobe tweet about anything other than basketball?

On Monday in response to a fan’s tweet using “gay” as a derogatory term, Kobe tweeted the following:



The coverage of the tweet was pretty consistent.  Writers asked whether it is appropriate for Kobe to send that tweet.  Is it appropriate for him to publish his thoughts about anything other than his area of expertise?

Adding another aspect to the story: Kobe famously used the same language in a game two years before.  When some of his “tweeps” reminded him of this, Kobe responded with this follow-up:



Who determines how we use our earned influence?

I’ve never cared for Kobe Bryant as a player dating back to his time playing with Shaquille O’Neal.  He’s had a bevy of unsavory personal issues that I won’t overlook in deference to his athletic skill.  He’s not the most sympathetic character.

That said, does anyone know John Amaechi?  He is a gay former pro basketball player who wrote an eloquent and heartbreaking post when Kobe referred to a referee with a gay slur.  And virtually no one read it.  Millions of people have read Kobe’s tweet, or at least are aware of it because of its press coverage.  Despite Amaechi’s first hand expertise on the psychological impact of homosexual slurs, didn’t Kobe bring much more awareness to the issue the pejorative use of “gay” than Amaechi did?

My opinion is that anyone with earned influence should be able to say whatever they want.  It’s incumbent upon the reader to determine the value of a statement like that.  When George Clooney speaks about Darfur, is his message less relevant because he’s a movie star?  I suppose it depends on how people qualify his message.  I probably appreciate Kobe Bryant’s tweet more than some people because it aligns with my personal opinion.  If I were an English teacher and contractions were a pet peeve maybe I wouldn’t feel the same.

So what do you think?  Should celebrities be able to use their earned media to speak out of their area of expertise?  Should anyone?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Robin E. Thornton

    It goes back to responsibility, Jim, anyone can say anything they want. But not everyone will garner the appropriate attention and/or response. If you have influence, it’s important to recognize your cred, and, it’s better to use your powers for good, than for evil – as long as you are genuine (which is my reservation/hesitation about Kobe).

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Robin – I thought about that just now, too. What if he isn’t sincere? And I’m not sure that the question of his sincerity is as important as the act of pointing out that behavior in a public forum. Rosa Parks he is not, but as a gesture I thought it was noteable. 😀 It’s better to use your powers for good than for evil is now my mantra for today! Thank you Robin!

  • Barrett Rossie

    Agree with Robin’s excellent comment. I’ll add: If Kobe or any athlete, actor, model or singer wants to talk about social issues or politics, it’s their right. I just don’t know why anyone would allow themselves to care.

  • Cendrine Marrouat

    I think celebrities should use their influence to make a true difference in the world.

    Kobe is not someone who learnt any lesson because he is a responsible adult, but because the public pressured him to grow up. He is not a genuine individual (IMHO).

    To me, celebrities do not have a specific area of expertise. They tend to try their hands at pretty much everything.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Cendrine!