The NBA is Censoring Criticism of the Chinese Government — And it’s Entirely Un-American
While, in Hong Kong, anti-government protests have stepped up the violence, the Chinese government is cracking down on all expressions of sympathy for the protesters from the West. China recently coerced the NBA into censoring a tweet by Daryl Morey, a Houston Rockets general manager, that showed support for Hong Kong’s protesters. The tweet in question said, “Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong.”
China, a country that places arguably extreme limits on the right to free speech–especially criticism of their government–was not happy with the tweet. In response, a Chinese consulate urged the Houston Rockets to “correct the error.” The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), which has often staged games between NBA and CBA teams early in the season and marketed to Rockets fans, also voiced its displeasure with the remark. They consequently cut business ties with the Houston Rockets, putting big business between the two corporations in jeopardy. As a result, the NBA has shamefully cowered away, removing and apologizing for the tweet in an effort to appease the Chinese communists. After all, they risk losing billions of dollars in potential profits by breaking business ties with them. The billionaires that run the NBA may have thought, “why save a single tweet that could cost us billions?” However, the implications of the decision to either maintain or delete Morey’s tweet are much bigger than they think.
Freedom, especially that of expression, is an aspect of American culture that has been cherished deeply by us ever since we gained independence nearly 250 years ago. So when a country known for limiting and outright taking away the freedoms of its citizens asks an American company to assist in their censorship, a swift decline should be a no-brainer, no matter how small the victim of censorship may be. This sentiment goes especially for a company that has claimed to champion social justice through its program “NBA Cares” because, at the end of the day, the decision to either maintain or delete the tweet reflects deeply on its priorities. However, the greed of the league’s front office has blinded them to what’s most important. They have gone against vital American values by bowing down to an oppressive government and assisting in censorship for money.
This line of reasoning might lead some to believe that the fault of the NBA is their lack of respect for the First Amendment freedoms (i.e free speech) of Americans. That’s not the issue. A private corporation has a right to discipline employees for forms of expression that reflect poorly on its image, even if those forms of expression are not strictly criminal. If that means sanctioning employees who express their political opinions about a group of people in a foreign country, so be it. Daryl Morey’s comment is not exempt.
The real problem lies in the NBA’s cowardly resolve to side with the oppressor. It has not taken a stance of neutrality; neutrality would be allowing Daryl Morey to voice his opinions about China’s government while neither giving in to their threats nor taking an explicit stance against them. Though its actions may not limit the rights of Americans, they consequently obstruct the process of growing support for Hong Kong protesters from the West and assist in China’s acts of censorship. The excuse of being a private company does not imply that they are free from criticism nor absolve them of their wrongdoings.
Additionally, the NBA’s actions highlight the immense hypocrisy of claiming to care about social issues “in the U.S. and around the world” while also turning a blind eye to the very relevant issues apparent within China’s oppressive government. It is clear now that the company only cared about social justice when it benefited them. LeBron James was once given the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for his efforts to provide education for the impoverished of his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The NBA, on more than one occasion, staged a game in Africa in support and honor of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. But when an NBA employee expresses an opinion that does not sit well with a big-market country, social justice apparently isn’t worth that much to the company. Now that billions of dollars are at stake, the NBA cannot possibly afford to take the loss inherent in caring about social justice in Hong Kong.
This brings back unpleasant memories of Google quietly abandoning its founding slogan, “Don’t be evil,” as it made deals with China to create a censored search engine, called “Dragonfly,” for the country. Though Google ultimately failed at establishing Dragonfly as a primary web browser for China, the attempt indeed reflected poorly on their priorities and morals and shows that they’re willing to abandon basic social justice values in exchange for money.
These actions by the NBA and Google are not the only instances of external companies assisting in Chinese censorship. A Mariott employee was once fired for using an account associated with the company to like a Twitter post of a Tibetan separatist group. Nearly six months ago, Gap apologized to China for producing a China T-shirt that didn’t include Taiwan, noting that they “respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The main difference between these companies and Google and the NBA is that the former had everything to lose and nothing to gain. As a result, no one really made any complaints or heavy criticisms. The moral consequences of bowing down to China when human rights are at stake are much higher, however. Securing one’s financial future is not worth the now-massive moral cost of ignoring China’s human rights violations and abandoning one’s integrity.
The NBA has made its decision: the prioritization of profits over human rights. The list of Western companies that have bowed down to China keeps growing. If the NBA wants to maintain their integrity and continue to champion social justice, changes must be made. Now that the moral stakes are high, they must reconsider what is more valuable in the long-term: money or integrity.