Regular readers are well aware of my abiding disgust over the National Basketball Association's performative faux wokeness. I wrote on this subject most recently a few weeks ago, but it's been a recurring theme in my writing for quite some time. Some of the NBA's biggest names and most prominent voices claim to care very deeply about 'social justice' and human rights -- frequently hurling partisan insults at US politicians they dislike -- yet every single one of them refuses to say one word about China's egregious abuses. Expressing the pro-democracy sentiment "free Hong Kong" was handled like a punishable offense for team executives and fans alike (super star LeBron James pressured the league to literally punish it), with a number of pro basketball's loudest political mouths falling conspicuously silent when confronted with the Communist regime's horrific conduct. Even inconvenient questions from reporters were treated as out-of-bounds affronts. There is quite a lot of money to be made in the Chinese market, after all.
Blasting America's flaws is not only fair game within the NBA; it's encouraged by the league. It's not because they believe much of anything, you must understand. It's because domestic social justice posturing is good business. But Beijing doesn't take kindly to criticisms, and tends to react with a heavy hand, so blind eyes must be turned to unpleasantness such as unlawful anti-liberty crackdowns, aggressive, slanderous, anti-American lies about a global pandemic -- and, well, actual ethnic cleansing and concentration camps. When the treatment of Uighur minorities in the western province of Xinjiang started to become too widely-reported to credibly ignore, the NBA says it quietly closed down its Xinjiang training and development facility. They claimed on the record that they totally severed ties more than a year ago (more on this to come), though they cravenly declined to say whether the decision had anything to do with the Chinese regime's atrocious and prevalent human rights violations in the region.
Explicitly acknowledging such atrocities could jeopardize more money, alas. The policy has been: Speak out ostentatiously at home. Stencil words onto courts for the TV cameras. Flaunt your passion for equality and justice. But pipe down about any of that other stuff. Now, based on a bombshell report from ESPN, we're learning that the league had another reason to finally close down their Xinjiang 'academy:'
Long before an October tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters spotlighted the NBA's complicated relationship with China, the league faced complaints from its own employees over human rights concerns inside an NBA youth-development program in that country, an ESPN investigation has found. American coaches at three NBA training academies in China told league officials their Chinese partners were physically abusing young players and failing to provide schooling, even though commissioner Adam Silver had said that education would be central to the program, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the complaints. The NBA ran into myriad problems by opening one of the academies in Xinjiang, a police state in western China where more than a million Uighur Muslims are now held in barbed-wire camps. American coaches were frequently harassed and surveilled in Xinjiang, the sources said. One American coach was detained three times without cause; he and others were unable to obtain housing because of their status as foreigners. A former league employee compared the atmosphere when he worked in Xinjiang to "World War II Germany."
ESPN writes that its investigation "sheds new light on the lucrative NBA-China relationship and the costs of doing business with a government that suppresses free expression and is accused of cultural genocide." And it sounds like the league did everything it could to prevent this story from being told:
Most of the former employees spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared damaging their chances for future employment. NBA officials asked current and former employees not to speak with ESPN for this story. In an email to one former coach, a public relations official added: "Please don't mention that you have been advised by the NBA not to respond." One American coach who worked for the NBA in China described the project as "a sweat camp for athletes."...One requested and received a transfer after watching Chinese coaches strike teenage players, three sources told ESPN. Another American coach left before the end of his contract because he found the lack of education in the academies unconscionable...The NBA brought in elite coaches and athletic trainers with experience in the G League and Division I basketball to work at the academies. One former coach described watching a Chinese coach fire a ball into a young player's face at point-blank range and then "kick him in the gut." "Imagine you have a kid who's 13, 14 years old, and you've got a grown coach who is 40 years old hitting your kid," the coach said. "We're part of that. The NBA is part of that."
The article details how the "students" were crammed into tiny dormitories at night, and left unsupervised and uneducated for long periods of time, despite the NBA's claim that education was a cornerstone of the program. "The facilities gave the NBA access to existing [state-owned] infrastructure and elite players, " according to the piece, "but the arrangement put NBA activities under the direction of Chinese officials who selected the players and helped define the training." A former coach is quoted as saying, "we were basically working for the Chinese government." This portion of the lengthy report really lays bare the abject cowardice and hypocrisy of America's wokest professional sports league. It's just as bad as we thought it was:
Pressed by ESPN, Tatum repeatedly avoided questions on whether the widespread human rights abuses in Xinjiang played a role in closing the academy, instead citing "many factors." "My job, our job is not to take a position on every single human rights violation, and I'm not an expert in every human rights situation or violation," Tatum said. "I'll tell you what the NBA stands for: The values of the NBA are about respect, are about inclusion, are about diversity. That is what we stand for." Nury Turkel, a Uighur American activist who has been heavily involved in lobbying the U.S. government on Uighur rights, told ESPN before the NBA said it had left Xinjiang that he believed the league had been indirectly legitimizing "crimes against humanity."
One former league employee who worked in China wondered how the NBA, which has been so progressive on issues around Black Lives Matter and moved the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina, over a law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates, could operate a training camp amid a Chinese government crackdown that also targeted NBA employees. "You can't have it both ways," the former employee said. "... You can't be over here in February promoting Black History Month and be over in China, where they're in reeducation camps and all the people that you're partnering with are hitting kids."
Oh, but you can have it both ways. The NBA has been doing so for years, and absent major exposes like this, they'd happily keep the gravy train rolling, careful to avoid offending the totalitarian sensibilities of the Communists in Beijing. The article makes it clear that NBA brass are still downplaying this scandal and claiming that they were unaware of its worst excesses. Last month, US Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) wrote a letter to NBA leaders demanding answers on a number of fronts. The league responded, "the NBA has had no involvement with the Xinjiang basketball academy for more than a year, and the relationship has been terminated." According to the ESPN story, that was a lie:
NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Mark Tatum and other officials have told ESPN that they were unaware that the league's personnel were subjected to abuses and intimidation while in China. That strains credulity. Also from the piece: "After returning from Xinjiang last fall, Corbin Loubert, a strength coach who joined the NBA after stints at the IMG Academy in Florida and The Citadel, posted a CNN story on Twitter describing how the network's reporters faced surveillance and intimidation in Xinjiang. 'I spent the past year living in Xinjiang, and can confirm every word of this piece is true,' Loubert tweeted. 'One of the biggest challenges was not only the discrimination and harassment I faced,' he added, 'but turning a blind eye to the discrimination and harassment that the Uyghur people around me faced.'" Speaking of CNN, the NBA's commissioner appeared on that network shortly after the ESPN story was published. Over the course of a 16-minute interview, anchor Wolf Blitzer did not raise any issue related to China. I'll leave you with this:
The NBA is engaged in lucrative for profit activity with a country committing genocide against people whose ethnicity and religion the state disapproves of.— Mark Hemingway (@Heminator) July 30, 2020
Until they seriously address this, maybe they should consider they're terrible spokesmen for America's injustices. https://t.co/fBLk9dnIkS
Since ESPN's NBA/China bombshell dropped, Steve Kerr has retweeted criticisms of Trump & Susan Collins. Silence on the massive human rights scandal from which he profits.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) July 30, 2020
LeBron tweeted a Nike clip, promoting a sponsor that obsequiously caters to Beijing: https://t.co/PiOL1P5rme
This organization is a disgrace. And kudos to ESPN for running with such a tough story about one of their league partners.