U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, in a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday, wrote that the league’s policy on social injustice messages “appears to stop at the edge of your corporate sponsors’ sensibilities,” especially when it came to matters involving China and support of the United States military and law enforcement personnel.
In the letter, Hawley said Silver has been “deepening the NBA’s ties to the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]” since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong in October.
Silver backed the free speech rights of Morey, but the ensuing fallout from that tweet caused Chinese companies to pause or cancel sponsorship deals — with Silver estimating losses of “probably less than $400 million” and the league lowering its salary-cap projections for next season — and games to be pulled from broadcast television in China.
If @NBA is going to put social cause statements on uniforms, why not “Support our Troops” or “Back the Blue”? Or given how much $$ @nba makes in #China, how about “Free Hong Kong”! Today I wrote to Adam Silver to ask for answers pic.twitter.com/PthYR4OxmE
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) July 10, 2020
Hawley said the league’s new policy of “enhanced employee expression” when it came to social injustice has “crossed the line of sanctioning specific political messages” rather than allow free speech.
“This is a time for you to make clear what your league believes about human rights and about the nation that is your home,” Hawley wrote.
NBA executive vice president of communications Mike Bass told ESPN: “We just received the letter and are reviewing it.”
In response to the senator’s letter, ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski replied with a profane email. The senator posted Wojnarowski’s reply on his social media account.
“I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake,” Wojnarowski said in an apology. “I’m sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly. I also need to apologize to my ESPN colleagues because I know my actions were unacceptable and should not reflect on any of them.”
ESPN also issued a statement, which said: “This is completely unacceptable behavior and we do not condone it. It is inexcusable for anyone working for ESPN to respond in the way Adrian did to Senator Hawley. We are addressing it directly with Adrian and specifics of those conversations will remain internal.”
The NBPA and the NBA reached an agreement earlier this month to allow players to pick a social justice message — from a list of approved options — to put on their jerseys when the league restarts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida, on July 30.
The list of the suggested messages that were agreed to by the NBPA and the NBA and then made available to players via email, per the source, are: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am a Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor. “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,” Hawley wrote to Silver. “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 the 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?”