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Waltz Leads Letter Demanding the NBA Stands Up for Human Rights in China

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, U.S. Congressman Mike Waltz (FL-6) led Congressional Republican colleagues in urging National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its ongoing human rights abuses.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) along with U.S. Representatives Neal Dunn (FL-2), Scott Franklin (FL-15), Vicky Hartzler (MO-4), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Jeff Duncan (SC-3), and Young Kim (CA-39), signed the letter.

Lawmakers expressed concern over the lack of action taken by the NBA concerning the human rights abuses repeatedly committed by the CCP and the evident influence the CCP has had over business decisions made by the NBA. Lawmakers urge Commissioner Adam Silver to inform Congress on how the NBA plans to stand up to the CCP, educate players, employees, and franchises of CCP oppressions, and protect players who speak out against CCP atrocities.

“The NBA has been taking orders from the CCP for years and have allowed the CCP’s political ambitions to dictate the organizations’ decision-making,” said Rep. Waltz. “Just look at the abrupt end of Enes Kanter Freedom’s NBA career. For over a decade, Kanter Freedom has spoken out against human rights abuses around the world, including standing up to Turkish President Erdogan, without punishment from the NBA. However, as soon as he spoke ill of the CCP and called attention to the genocide against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, the same free speech he otherwise enjoyed was no longer protected by the NBA. Clearly, the NBA is cherry picking which social and political demonstrations and athletes they are willing to support based on market opportunities.”

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Commissioner Silver:

We write to express our deep concerns regarding the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Over the years, the NBA has continued to overlook the egregious human rights abuses committed by the CCP, allowing the CCP politics to play a significant role in the NBA’s business decisions. The most recent example of which was exemplified with the abrupt end of Enes Kanter Freedom’s NBA career.

Throughout his decade-long career, Enes Kanter Freedom has utilized his platform in the NBA to draw attention to global human rights abuses. At first, Kanter Freedom chose to speak out against the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his regime’s dismantling of human rights and democratic protections, which included direct attacks against Kantor Freedom’s own family. However, once his criticisms turned toward the Chinese Communist Party late last year, free speech was no longer a right that the NBA valued or protected.

The Chinese Communist Party has a long-standing history of human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minorities. Since April 2017, the CCP has forcefully detained over one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups in internment camps in the Xinjiang province. These individuals have been subject to physical and psychological abuses, including forced sterilization, sexual abuse, rape, and forced labor.

Despite global concern and outcry of the crimes committed in Xinjiang, little has been done by global businesses to hold China accountable because profit margins are at stake. The NBA is among the worst – refusing to stand up to blatant human rights abuses. Many of the NBA’s primary sponsors, including Nike, Adidas, and Microsoft, have products produced by forced Uyghur labor. We believe these business relationships with CCP cannot be overlooked when examining the NBA’s actions, including the status of Enes Kanter Freedom’s employment.

In addition to wanting to maintain corporate sponsorships, the NBA greatly benefits from game broadcasts in China. As you are well aware, the NBA lost about $400 million in revenue during the 2019-2020 season stemming from former Houston Rocket General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong protestors. Similarly, following Kanter Freedom’s first demonstration against the CCP in support of Tibet, China banned streaming of Celtics games for the duration of the year – another significant blow to the NBA’s revenues.

On the flip side, the NBA has Chamath Palihapitiya, partial owner of a predominant franchise, spewing despicable comments about the Uyghurs. Palihapitiya recently said, "Nobody cares about what's happening to the Uyghurs, okay… I'm just telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things I care about, yes, it's below my line." This is yet another glaring example of the NBA community’s disregard for the Uyghur people and kowtowing to the CCP. Both Palihapitiya’s reprehensible comments, and the NBA’s lack of a forceful response, was appalling. 

It is clear that the NBA cherry picks which social and political demonstrations they will support. A quick four months after speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party, Enes Kanter Freedom was dropped from his team. The NBA clearly feared that Kanter Freedom’s activism would lead to a repeat of the political and monetary repercussions that they suffered after Daryl Morey’s tweet in defense of freedom for Hong Kong. 

Rather than standing up to the CCP for its continued human rights abuses and profiting off forced labor, the NBA continues to cower to the CCP, allowing the political preferences  of a malevolent regime to  intervene in NBA business decisions and silence its employees and players.

It is possible for leaders in the global sports community to take a stance against China . In fact, Steve Simon of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) received broad international support for his decision to suspend all WTA tournaments in China. Therefore, Commissioner Silver, please consider how the NBA plans to stand up to the CCP for its ongoing human rights abuses, including genocide, and educate players, employees, and franchises of the CCP’s oppression. We also ask you to inform us on how you intend to protect the rights of courageous players who choose to speak out against the CCP in the future, despite your failure to do so in the case of Enes Kanter Freedom.