Americans are increasingly inviting progressive politics into sports. Football players kneeling the national anthem are no longer an easy target. Even President Donald Trump has softened his tone on Colin Kaepernick.
So, some Republicans are pushing for MORE politics – their politics – in sports (sometimes under the guise of less politics in sports).
Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, like Tennessee U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, has criticized the NBA for its relationship with China. It’s grandstanding while the United States itself has a trade deal with China.
Now, Hawley is objecting to the NBA’s pre-approved list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys.
Today Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is sending a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blasting the league’s apparent decision to strictly limit messages players can wear on their jerseys to a few pre-approved, social justice slogans while censoring support for law enforcement officers or the military and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Senator Hawley writes that, as the NBA is now sanctioning political messages, they must stand up for American values and make clear where they stand on China’s human rights abuses.
Senator Hawley writes, “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. 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?”
OF COURSE the NBA was going to limit jersey messages to a pre-approved list. The league doesn’t want the pressure of censoring players’ individual choices. Nor does the league want to condone messages that would offend offend customers and jeopardize revenue. Support for Hong Kong protesters would definitely qualify as financially perilous.
The NBA – a business trying to make money – wants to support its employees and appeal to its audience. These relatively benign phrases accomplish those goals.
That doesn’t prevent NBA players from criticizing China. I take NBA commissioner Adam Silver at his word (especially after the Daryl Morey controversy) that the NBA endorses its employees right to speak out.
The NBA just isn’t going to allow players to give just any message through their jerseys.
Some players are understandably bothered by that limitation. But the biggest pushes for change aren’t going to come through multi-billion-dollar corporations. That’s just reality.
Likewise, though Hawley raises legitimate concerns about China’s treatment of Uighurs and Hong Kongers, scolding an American company for legally acting in its best financial interest is… um… certainly a choice for a U.S. Senator.