Jul 11, 2020 - Sports

Senator rebukes NBA for not allowing players to address China's human rights abuses

Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley in June.

Sen. Josh Hawley in June. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) criticized the NBA's decision to limit political messages players can wear while on court in a letter to league Commissioner Adam Silver on Friday.

Why it matters: Hawley accused the league of censoring players' support for law enforcement officers and the military, as well as their criticism of the Chinese Communist Party's human rights abuses in Hong Kong and against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Background: The NBA on July 3 released a list of pre-approved political messages that players can wear on the back of their jerseys for the upcoming season restart in Orlando, CBS Sports reports.

  • The list of 29 political messages includes social justice slogans like "I Can't Breathe" and "Black Lives Matter" and broad values such as "Justice," "Peace" and "Equality."

What they're saying: "The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor — much like the censorship decisions of the CCP — are themselves statements about your association’s values," Hawley said in the letter.

  • "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."

The big picture: The league has struggled to balance its progressive brand and America's democratic ideals with the influence of China's massive market, Axios' Kendall Baker reports.

  • The NBA received public backlash in 2019 after Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted then deleted an image that read "Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong" in reference to the pro-democracy protests that had been occurring there for months.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: The NBA's silence on atrocities in China, one of its most lucrative markets, is increasingly glaring.

Go deeper: China's influence operations are getting harder to hide

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