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. The NBA recently censored a tweet by a Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, 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. A Chinese consulate urged the Houston Rockets to “correct the error,” and the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has voiced its displeasure with the comment. In addition, the CBA cut its ties with the Houston Rockets, threatening business with a country with 1.4 billion people. 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. Yet, this compels us to ask: so what?
When a country known for limiting and outright taking away freedom–an aspect of American culture cherished deeply by us ever since we gained independence nearly 250 years ago–asks an American company to assist in censorship, a swift decline should be a no-brainer. However, the NBA’s greed has completely overshadowed the care and appreciation they once had for addressing social issues around the world, manifested in the program “NBA Cares.” 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 rights (i.e free speech) of Americans. That’s not the issue; make no mistake. Private corporations have a right to discipline employees for forms of speech that damage their image. If that means firing employees who make, for example, racist or sexist remarks in person or online, so be it. Daryl Morey’s comments are not exempt.
The real problem lies in the NBA’s cowardly resolve to side with the oppressor. They have not taken a stance of neutrality; neutrality would be allowing Daryl Morey to voice his opinions about China’s government without giving in to their threats or taking an explicit stance against them. Though their 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 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. 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. It is now apparent that the NBA has been willing to champion social justice only as long as circumstances financially permit. Now that billions of dollars are at stake, the NBA cannot possibly care about the most abhorrent human rights violations taking place in China.
This is not the first time an external company has assisted 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.” No one complained about or criticized these companies’ actions because they had everything to lose and nothing to gain. The moral consequences of bowing down to China, in this case, are much higher, however. Human rights are in jeopardy. 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.