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Sen. Josh Hawley’s Letter Criticizing NBA Is Nothing More Than Cheap PR Stunt

Sen. Josh Hawley’s bad-faith whataboutism regarding the NBA’s decision permitting players to wear slogans on their jerseys promoting racial justice doesn’t warrant serious consideration — or even an actual reply. It is the definition of trolling, and when trolls seek cheap attention, they should be dismissed in the most succinct way possible.

ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski gave Hawley what he was asking for.

On Friday, Hawley released a letter he addressed to NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the league allowing players to wear pre-approved social messages on their jerseys when the season is scheduled to resume in Orlando, Fla. later this month. The letter invokes the NBA’s capitulation to China last year, when the league publicly admonished Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for tweeting support for the Hong Kong protesters. The tweet endangered the league’s lucrative business agreements with the Chinese government, which pulled two preseason games from state television.

“Let your players stand up for the people of Hong Kong,” Hawley wrote.

The NBA’s lack of support for Morey — and words from LeBron James about how the MIT graduate was “misinformed” on the matter — are shameful examples of prioritizing profit over principles. As a nearly $9 billion industry, the NBA is not immune from acting to protect its bottom line, even if that means playing cover for an oppressive overseas regime that stuffs its coffers.

But to state the obvious: the league’s silence about the Hong Kong protests has nothing to do with the nationwide protests against racial injustice, which were sparked due to the killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer May 25. The gruesome incident was captured on videotape, and the officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring his pleas about not being able to breath.

Numerous NBA stars, including James, are dedicating themselves to advocating for equality and fighting police brutality against Black people. The NBA and players’ union reportedly reached an agreement last week allowing players to display nearly 30 social justice messages on their jerseys. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following phrases: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; I Can’t Breathe; Speak Up; Anti-Racist; Vote.

The NBA also reportedly plans to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the courts at the Walt Disney World Resort.

In Hawley’s letter, the junior Republican senator from Missouri, which set a new record Thursday for confirmed coronavirus cases, absurdly asks why the NBA hasn’t also approved slogans applauding the military or law enforcement.

“If @NBA is going to put social cause statements on uniforms, why not ‘Support our Troops’ or ‘Back the Blue’?,” he tweeted. “Or given how much $$ @nba makes in #China, how about “Free Hong Kong”! Today I wrote to Adam Silver to ask for answers.”

In response to Hawley’s statement, which was presumably sent to NBA writers across the country, Wojnarowski told him to give it up — in the most colorful way possible.

Hawley, in an apparent effort to remove any doubt his letter to Silver is nothing more than a PR ploy, posted Wojnarowski’s reply, and tagged Clay Travis’ radio show, “Outkick the Coverage.”

Of course, there is an exceptional amount of hypocrisy for Hawley to criticize the NBA’s acquiescence to China, yet staying silent about President Donald Trump’s reported endorsement of Chinese concentration camps for Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, which former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton alleges in his new memoir. It could also be considered an abdication of duty for Hawley to focus on poking the NBA over its support for Black Lives Matter while the U.S. remains in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century. Surely, Hawley’s constituents don’t care about NBA player jerseys.

But beyond that, Hawley’s argument about how the NBA’s accommodations towards China nullifies its support of racial justices causes is disingenuous. The NBA acted wrongly when it didn’t stand up to the Chinese government last fall. But that doesn’t mean the league can’t facilitate its players to speak out about social issues important to them, like racial inequality.

The NBA also has plenty of programs supporting the military, including its Commitment to Service initiative. Certainly, nobody could doubt the NBA’s, or any professional sports league’s, support for the military.

As a Stanford and Yale Law graduate, Hawley must understand the vapid and ridiculous nature of his arguments. They would be dismissed in any academic setting, and thus, should be dismissed here.

This is apparent attention ploy backfired.

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