Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., accused the NBA of being too favorable to China after it was reported the league had approved certain social justice messages for players to wear on their jerseys during games.
According to The Undefeated, the list of phrases include: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can't Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
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Hawley wrote in a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that the league’s “free expression appears to stop at the edge of your corporate sponsors’ sensibilities.”
“The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor – much like the censorship decisions of the [Chinese Community Party] – are themselves statements about your association’s values. If I am right – if the NBA is more committed to promoting the CCP’s interests than to celebrating its home nation – your fans deserve to know that is your view. If not, prove me wrong. Let your players stand up for the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they so choose. Give them the choice to write “Back the Blue” on their jerseys. Or “Support Our Troops.” Maybe “God Bless America.” What could be more American than that?” Hawley wrote.
“With your new policy, you have crossed the line of sanctioning specific political messages. There is no avoiding the work of clarifying the association’s values now. This is a time for you to make clear what your league believes about human rights and about the nation that is your home. Your silence on these questions speaks volumes.”
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Hawley is asking Silver to answer five questions: Whether the NBA will censor pro-military or pro-police statements; whether it's true that phrases approved for display on jerseys don't include messages in support of victims of the Chinese Communist Party; whether the NBA will censor any message showing support for victims of the Chinese Community Party; how the league plans to defend players who speak out against China; and whether the league will condemn China for trying to silence players.
The NBA came under fire last year after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted pro-Hong Kong rhetoric just ahead of the league’s China series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. The league felt the immediate backlash.
Morey posted subsequent tweets to try and stop the bleeding while Rockets star James Harden apologized for the tweet. But to no avail.
China began to crack down on the NBA almost immediately as Chinese sportswear brands either suspended or severed ties with the Rockets. The Communist government also blacked out broadcasts of the league’s preseason games in the country and canceled NBA Cares events and media availabilities ahead of the exhibition games between the Lakers and Nets.
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Silver stood in support of Morey’s right to free speech but said he regretted the outcome. Players remained silent while on mainland China, as did the league’s most vocal critics of President Trump, opting to either “learn more” about the situation — or take more shots at the White House.