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Player Social Responsibility

29/07/2014 14:13 BST | Updated 28/09/2014 10:59 BST

It may have been a comic book hero that was told "With great power comes great responsibility" but nowadays the real superheroes are the sports stars.

In a society that is built on win at all costs, it was refreshing to see LeBron James choose his hometown of Cleveland to return to after four years at the top in Miami, complete with two Championships and four straight NBA finals.

The Cleveland owner, Dan Gilbert, labelled James' initial departure for Florida a "cowardly betrayal" and a "shocking act of disloyalty", but this chutzpah seems surprising in the ruthless big business of the NBA. The best players want to win the most they can, earning as much as they can, wherever they can.

In returning James started a media frenzy, he released his "essay" on Sports Illustrated.com creating in excess of six million unique visitors on the day the news broke. A fifty foot billboard of James in full Cavs uniform was on show in Cleveland within the hour.

Regardless of his personal gains, it has been said that the city could receive a $500 million boost to the local economy through ticket sales, TV revenues and potential bonuses from the team becoming contenders. Harder to put a quantity on is the "LeBron" effect, which for the unfashionable state is priceless. James was listed number two on Forbes most powerful celebrities, to put that into perspective soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was number thirty.

This asks the question was he obliged to go back home? In his essay James claimed it was "where I walked. It's where I ran. It's where I cried. It's where I bled". In the business world there is an expectation that organisations should give something back, promote some social good beyond the spirit of the company, or Corporate Social Responsibility. Was this LeBron's Player Social Responsibility?

When David Beckham signed for Paris Saint-Germain his move to donate his wages to a local children's charity provided a big sport PR pat on the back for "Brand Beckham". The sincerity of this move may be justified but it also raised a few questions. Beckham would personally profit from image rights and merchandise whilst avoiding the high taxes on wages of the super rich in France. The club president called him an "asset" rather than player at the unveiling revealing a more business minded language. Was this something he could or should have done?

Brazil's Neymar has done similar to LeBron but in reverse. When everyone expected him to move to one of the big European clubs he turned them down to carry on playing at Santos. It was the first time in the modern era that a Brazilian player of his potential had decided to stay in Brazil. Whether this was down to a sense of duty or a brilliant sports marketing plan, the amount of goodwill he received turned him into a national hero. His face was on so many products they called it "Neymarketing".

During the World Cup the deals continued, but not always for profit. PayPal and Waves for Water used Neymar to promote their aim of bringing in clean water to impoverished areas of Brazil. It was a charitable gesture to his people and of no harm to his public relations. It is not the first deal of its kind but it is refreshing to see superstars giving their name and time to a worthy profit free cause.

Didier Drogba has used his sponsorship deals to build hospitals and schools in his home country, the Ivory Coast. His involvement in the peace process during their recent civil war showed the unifying power of sport and what can be achieved. For a player to create a lasting legacy they must look beyond the quick buck and and build something that can bring about real change for the long term. With the growing power of sport and celebrity we will be hoping that the amazing endings are not solely for comic books.