A tweet supporting protestors in Hong Kong has caused a rift between China and the NBA. Do social-activist players have a duty to speak out?
After years of taking heat for voicing their opinions on political and social issues, NBA players and coaches have found themselves this week being attacked for the exact opposite. With a cold war brewing between the NBA and China over a tweet made, and subsequently deleted, by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of anti-government protestors in Hong Kong, the league’s biggest names have mostly responded with a very loud silence. That in and itself has drawn criticism in the US, even while it has seemingly done nothing to appease China itself. Indeed, the Rockets are facing a boycott in China, and sponsorships and broadcasting deals for the whole league are under threat.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has attempted to placate everybody by expressing regret for Morey’s statements while reaffirming his employees’ rights to free speech. Unfortunately, he has been trying to find middle ground unaware that there is none. As a result, voices from both the left and right in the US have criticized him and the league for their attempts to apologize to a totalitarian government rather than risking profits in a huge market. Inevitably, the media has turned its attention to the “global ambassadors” of the game, the players themselves.