Bronny James, the eldest son of NBA basketball player LeBron James, faced a tough final high school basketball season at Sierra Canyon High due to a knee injury. Many expected Bronny to live up to his father’s greatness. But, ranked 34th nationally and inconsistent during games, Bronny’s less-than-exceptional journey to the NBA raises the question of whether he merits the attention and praise he is receiving on Twitter and from large companies like Nike. Children following in the footsteps of their famous parents is not a new phenomenon in sports, as many of today’s best athletes have superstar parents. Though “nepo-babies” is a newer term to describe celebrity children, nepotism — or favoring personal connections over merit — is not a new occurrence in society. Nepotism has played a significant role in society and the economy for centuries. However, the culture of nepotism has grown entirely disproportionate in sports, entertainment, business, and politics as it has become more visible through social media.
The current crop of “nepo-babies” populate Hollywood to an inequitable degree. “Nepo-babies” often are afforded roles due to their parent’s celebrity status, such as Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of actor Johnny Depp, who starred alongside him in Yoga Hosers at the age of fifteen. Or Jaden Smith, son of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who also starred with his father in the Oscar-nominated film Pursuit of Happiness at six. In a competitive industry with limited roles, projects, and productions, the privilege of getting into the audition room or having a small role in a family member’s film makes a difference. When opportunities are reserved for “nepo-babies,” working-class actors do not have the opportunity to achieve the same degree of success or recognition.
“Nepo-babies” also infiltrate the economy with many family businesses in the marketplace. Of the largest public companies, according to studies, family firms account for 64% of the nation’s GDP. Walmart, for example, is owned by the Walton family, who continue to be the company’s major shareholders. However, maintaining family management has consequences, as economists find “nepo-babies” are more likely to exercise destructive management practices and declare bankruptcy.
Perhaps the most destructive form of nepotism is in U.S. politics. Most recently, former President Donald Trump appointed his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, as his senior advisors despite having none of the typical experience or training requirements for these positions. Indeed, Ivanka and Jared held important foreign policy responsibilities such as mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Appointing family members to high government positions leads to conflicting interests as “nepo-babies” often serve their own agendas and personal interests at the expense of the public. There is an investigation looking into the $2 billion investment from the Saudi government in Kushner’s private equity firm as it was discovered that Kushner and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman messaged privately during Trump’s term.
Nepotism has always existed, but with social media, more transparency about the influence of “nepo-babies” has allowed people to publicly call out this unjust practice. Though there are “nepo-babies” who worked to show that they were deserving of the opportunities they received, such as MVP Stephen Curry or Oscar-award winner Jamie Lee Curtis, these deserving “nepo-babies” still benefit from professional mentoring and connections they did not earn.
Bronny’s connection to his father has undoubtedly provided him with unwarranted attention and sponsorships, such as his NIL $10 million endorsement deal with Nike signed last year. As Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, stated, “a lot of people don’t win” the “ovarian lottery” — the luck of being born at the right place and time. But, familial ties shouldn’t be what dictates access and success. In a society that claims to be a meritocracy above all else, it’s important to call this practice out as it gives unfair advantages that shut others out and undermines the ideal of equal opportunity.