In this week’s Acton Commentary I discuss the raging controversy between the National Basketball Association, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, and China. Morey’s since deleted tweet expressing solidarity for the protest movement in Hong Kong led to criticism from the the Chinese regime, Chinese firms which sponsor the NBA, and NBA team owners. This led the NBA to distance itself from Morey and his views:
The NBA is now reaping the whirlwind of its failure to heed this warning in the form of biting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. It has now become transparent that the “woke capitalism” of the NBA was little more than marketing by other means. It has been frequently said that today’s NBA is one of unprecedented player empowerment (Paradoxically also player unhappiness) yet when Houston Rocket’s star James Harden pleads, “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there … ,” it looks like anything but that.
On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he won’t censor players or team owners over statements about China, that the league is motivated by more than money, and that freedom of expression must be protected. But the behavior of the NBA itself, the words of NBA owners, the struggle session of the league’s most talented GM, and the apology of one of its brightest stars all indicate that the party line is so firmly established that overt censorship may not even be necessary.
This is a rapidly developing story. Since my writing of this week’s Acton Commentary scheduled NBA events in China have been cancelled, many of the NBA’s Chinese partners have cut ties to the league, and Chinese state media and Tencent have suspended broadcast of NBA preseason games in China. The NBA’s attempts to distance itself from from the protest movement in Hong Kong while not overtly censoring NBA players and personnel were not enough for Chinese state television which stated:
We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.
NBA appeasement, struggle sessions, and shameful apologies were not enough to satisfy the communist regime in China which demands the NBA essentially become a propaganda outlet which punishes speech critical of the regime.
The appeasement now seems to extend to American sports media as well. Deadspin’s Laura Wagner has reported that ESPN issued a memo forbidding it’s on air staff from discussing Chinese politics:
What you didn’t hear was much discussion about what is actually happening on the ground with protestors in Hong Kong, why they’re protesting, or any other acknowledgment of China’s political situation, past or present.
This could be because Chuck Salituro, the senior news director of ESPN, sent a memo to shows mandating that any discussion of the Daryl Morey story avoid any political discussions about China and Hong Kong, and instead focus on the related basketball issues. The memo, obtained by Deadspin, explicitly discouraged any political discussion about China and Hong Kong. Multiple ESPN sources confirmed to Deadspin that network higher-ups were keeping a close eye on how the topic was discussed on ESPN’s airwaves.
In the case of both the NBA and ESPN we are witnessing a failure of conscience. Conscience compromised by the pursuit of business interests without moral restraint.