The kerfuffle between the NBA and China over Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong democracy tweet isn’t over, but things have calmed down slightly with the NBA season finally starting. Vice President Mike Pence tried to change that on Thursday, saying in a speech at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC that the NBA is acting like it’s owned by China’s Communist Party. Via CNBC:
“Some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of other peoples. In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime.”
Those are some fighting words from Pence, but it’s slightly hard to see how the NBA, which has not forbade its players from tweeting or speaking about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, is acting like it’s owned by China. After Morey’s tweet, China ended nearly every relationship it had with the NBA, and demanded that Morey be fired. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been attempting to heal the rift, but he’s also defended the rights of NBA players to speak their minds (several have done so) and refused to fire or punish Morey for his tweet.
Pence may also be a tad bit misinformed about NBA players, who use their voices to speak up for the rights of people in their own communities all the time, through both their words and actions. Many spend their time and money giving back to both the cities they play in and where they grew up.
Pence criticized NBA players for “losing their voices,” but history shows that he’s not supportive when athletes actually do use their voices to advocate for the freedom and rights of others. He famously stormed out of an Indianapolis Colts game in October 2017 after the national anthem was played, because players kneeled during the song to protest criminal injustice and racial inequality. But maybe Pence was talking about defending the freedom and rights of people who don’t live in the country he was elected to help lead.
The NBA wasn’t the only entity to incur Pence’s wrath. He also dragged Nike for removing Rockets gear from its China stores.
“Nike promotes itself as a so called ‘social-justice champion,’ but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door.”
Nike’s “social justice” stance is nice PR, but at the end of the day it’s just a marketing strategy. Nike exists to make money from its customers, and its Chinese customers didn’t want to buy Rockets gear. They’re no more complicit than any other US company that does business in China, and there are a lot of them.
It’s hard to find anyone who comes out clean in this situation. The NBA willingly got into bed with a country that is known for committing horrific human rights violations, all to expand its profits. China lost its mind over a single tweet from the GM of a basketball team. NBA players are facing the loss of sponsorships and possible future salary, and have to choose whether to protect that or to speak publicly about an incredibly complex foreign policy issue.
If Pence needs some guidance, perhaps he should look to President Donald Trump, who recently tweeted about China.
Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2019
Looks like Pence didn’t check with his boss about his speech, because the words “congratulations China” were nowhere to be found.
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