a social stand in sports?

At a time when societal institutions are intersecting cultural issues in unprecedented ways, I’m curious as to what we speak of — and what we don’t… what we highlight — and what we won’t. As persons who believe in respectfully discussing all that’s happening on the planet and adhering to the Judeo-Christian ethic that all lives are equal, we strive not to intentionally ignore any issue, especially when any are treated as lesser. So for today, allow us first some basic background info…

Officially called the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” (HKSAR), Hong Kong is “one of the most densely populated places in the world,” home to over 7.5 million people within only 426 square miles.

A British colony beginning in 1842, Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997. Per the transfer agreement between China and the United Kingdom, as a “special administrative region,” the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China is described as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong has their own governance and economic systems.

Increasingly more, freedoms for Hong Kongers have been perceived to be in decline. Said by former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice, “There is great concern in the United States about what is going on in Hong Kong. There is great concern first of all as to whether or not the promise from Beijing of one country and two systems is really being honored.” In response, there is increased friction, violence, and protests. (Interestingly, with such increase, there are also claims of police brutality, a lack of democracy, and demands that the protests not be portrayed as “riots”; this is approximately 7,821 miles away). With far more details than a singular post can articulate, upon the escalating tension and China’s recent national security law that cracks down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, last week the British government suspended the 1997 transfer agreement. 

Back to the point of this post… I’ve been struck by the handling of this issue by the NBA. While taking an active role this summer in highlighting justice for all people and an admirable intolerance for oppression, notice how they’ve handled the oppression in Hong Kong.

When tensions escalated last fall, GM Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets personally tweeted, “Fight for Freedom. Stand for Hong Kong,” the Chinese Basketball Association quickly terminated any cooperation with the Rockets; China’s top state broadcaster’s sports channel suspended airing any Rockets games; and multiple Chinese companies also immediately severed ties. The NBA’s fast, first response was regret — regret as to how Morey may “have deeply offended” the people of China.

The NBA focus on China’s disrespect more than Hong Kong’s oppression prompted outrage from Democrats and Republicans alike — sadly, a rare occurrence these days. Sen. Rick Scott called it “shameful” — Beto O’Rourke, “an embarrassment.” The NBA then attempted to awkwardly navigate through their resulting PR predicament, eventually saying they support free speech by all.

So with the protests intensifying in recent months and days, let’s venture back to our original question in regard to what we speak of — and what we don’t… what we highlight — and what we won’t. Why do cultural institutions act the way they do?

Tweeted actor and liberal activist, Bradley Whitford, “Hey @NBA. Do you care about what’s happening in Hong Kong?…  Or do you only take principled stands if they won’t hurt your bottom line?”

While I can’t see a day when I ever advocate for Twitter as a respectable means of communication, my curiosity continues. There seems need for more research.

According to USA Today, “a conservative estimate” puts NBA revenue from China at “$500 million annually based on deals that are publicly known.” Also, “China’s Tencent reached a five-year, $1.5 billion deal to remain the league’s exclusive digital partner in China, and it is the NBA’s largest partnership outside of the U.S… NBA China, a separate business arm of the NBA, was valued at $5 billion by Sports Business Journal last month. Separate from the NBA’s partnerships in China, players are invested in the country, too. Several of them, including stars LeBron James and Steph Curry, make annual visits to sell apparel products from Nike and Under Armour.”

As said by the publication, “The NBA and basketball are entrenched in China.”

Hence, my curiosity continues. So do my questions about our cultural institutions’ social stands.



(Editorial note: the BBC, CNBC, CNN, The Dispatch, Reuters, USA Today, and Wikipedia each served as vitals sources for this post.)

One Reply to “a social stand in sports?”

  1. Thought provoking….especially Bradley Whitford’s comment:
    “Hey @NBA. Do you care about what’s happening in Hong Kong?… Or do you only take principled stands if they won’t hurt your bottom line?” I immediately began substituting @NBA with other names: my own name, republicans, democrats, Christians, etc. It does seem that $$ in conjunction with self-preservation and pride form a huge barrier to overcome in order to even get to the place of verbalizing my beliefs or to taking a stand.

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