A bipartisan coalition of members of Congress sent a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver regarding the league’s willingness to censor free speech to maintain revenue from China’s enormous market.
The letter said it is “outrageous that the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition,” and that they are “deeply concerned” that this dust-up will only encourage the Chinese in their ability to intimidate American companies with economic threats. Eight members of Congress signed the letter, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and Ben Sasse, as well as Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Jim Banks, R-In., Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Tom Malinowski, D-N.J.
In the last two decades, the NBA has gained millions of fans in China, with the Houston Rockets being an especially popular team. In 2002, the Rockets drafted Chinese player Yao Ming. This year, the league scheduled for teams to play preseason games in China. A large Chinese digital broadcasting company, Tencent, has struck deals with both the NBA and ESPN to obtain digital rights to air the games in China. Co-signers of the letter warn that it is these kinds of economic opportunities that China threatens to withhold at the first sign of opinions they find dangerous to maintaining totalitarian control over their populace.
Members criticized the NBA for their hypocrisy of supporting players and coaches who speak out on human rights issues within the United States, but not in China. “While it is easy to defend freedom of speech when it costs you nothing, equivocating when profits are at stake is a betrayal of fundamental American values,” the letter reads.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 10, 2019
The letter concludes with Congress members asking Silver to commit to a number of actions, including suspended games and all NBA activities in China until the state-run media ends their boycott of NBA broadcasts. They also ask the NBA to reevaluate their training camp in Xinjiang, the city where millions of Muslims are held in concentration camps, and to clarify the league’s internal stance on “public commentary on international human rights repression.”
“It’s not unreasonable to expect American companies to put our fundamental democratic rights ahead of profit–the very rights that have fostered their success and our nation’s wealth,” they wrote.