Power Players

Why Shaquille O'Neal won't tell you who he's voting for

Shaquille O'Neal
Isaiah Trickey | FilmMagic | Getty Images

Ricky Gervais got mixed reactions on Jan. 5 after the Golden Globes host told a room of Hollywood actors they should stay away from talking politics during their award acceptance speeches.

But NBA legend and Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O'Neal seems to have a similar opinion. O'Neal told CNBC Make It he isn't so sure politics belong in sports.

Some athletes — most recently players like former 49er's quarterback Colin Kaepernick and FIFA Women's World Cup star Megan Rapinoe — are very public about jumping into the political fray. But during O'Neal's nearly two decades playing professional basketball, he never spoke out publicly on political issues or to endorse a candidate.

"I'm not saying I will never endorse anybody. I'm just not going to talk about it," O'Neal told CNBC Make It in December at the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year event in New York City.

O'Neal believes giving opinions on "social media" can be dangerous for athletes in general.

"My thought is that if you are not an expert on it or if you haven't been doing it. Don't do it," he says.

"I can tell when a person is really motivated by doing it or I can tell when they are just trying to get likes," he added.

O'Neal retired from the NBA in 2011 and has since transformed himself into a savvy investor and business person. His growing empire includes restaurant franchises, fitness gyms, car washes, his own line of branded products and partnerships with Papa John's and Carnival Cruise Line. In 2015, O'Neal sold the rights to his future endeavors to Authentic Brands Group (ABG), which acquired Sports Illustrated in May from Meredith Corporation.

O'Neal says his success is at least in part due to being smart with social media. He says he sticks to a format that he invented, which is "60% to make you laugh, 30% to inspire you and 10% to tell you what I'm selling."

"I don't speak out and I don't disrespect people," O'Neal tells CNBC Make It. "If I ever disrespect a person, it's going to be a basketball player, and I'm only doing it for fun. It's not what my parents raised me to do," he says.

And no disrespect to athletes who see things differently. Rapinoe, who won 2019's Sportsperson of The Year award, "is the epitome of the hard work that it takes for a woman to be recognized as great," O'Neal says. "She's an inspiration for other young girls."

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