Hawley criticizes NBA over social justice messages, support for China
Josh Hawley is unhappy with the NBA again.
In written comments Friday, Missouri’s junior U.S. senator went after the league for what he sees as favoring “anti-police” rhetoric over pro-democracy protesters fighting back against Communist dictators.
At issue is the recent agreement between the NBA and its players union to allow players to have a number of social justice messages — including “I Can’t Breathe” and “Anti-Racist” — in place of their names on their uniforms.
The idea is to give NBA players, of whom nearly 80 percent are Black, a way to elevate calls for an end to police brutality against Black people that were renewed by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But Hawley, a Republican, said the NBA made a mistake in not also including messages supporting police officers, American troops and pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters on the list.
"If @NBA is going to put social cause statements on uniforms, why not “Support our Troops” or “Back the Blue”?” he wrote in a tweet. “Or given how much $$@nba makes in #China, how about “Free Hong Kong”! Today I wrote to Adam Silver to ask for answers."
In the letter to Silver, the NBA commissioner, Hawley elaborated on that China criticism.
That dates back to an episode last fall when a Houston Rockets coach praised people in Hong Kong pushing back against Chinese Communist attempts to undermine their democracy.
The NBA, which had worked for years to expand its market in the world’s most populous country, quickly condemned the coach, which Hawley and many others called out as putting profits over democratic principles.
And on Friday, Hawley criticized the NBA's list of approved messages without something like “Free Hong Kong” as being more of the same.
“If I am right — if the NBA is more committed to promoting the (Chinese Communist Party’s) interests than to celebrating its home nation — your fans deserve to know that is your view,” Hawley wrote. “If not, prove me wrong."
"Let your players stand up for the people of Hong Kong,” he added. “Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they 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?"
The NBA did not publicly respond to Hawley on Friday.
When USATODAY Sports contacted the league for a response, spokesman Mike Bass said, “We just received the letter and are reviewing it.”
At least one prominent voice around the NBA made his feelings known immediately, though.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, known for inside scoops fans call “Woj bombs,” replied “F--- you” to Hawley’s press release.
Wojnarowski later apologized and ESPN condemned the response, but not before Hawley had some fun with it.
“Don’t criticize #China or express support for law enforcement to @espn,” he wrote in a tweet with Wojnarowski’s response attached. “It makes them real mad.”
The NBA season, paused by the coronavirus pandemic in March, is scheduled to resume in Orlando, Florida, at the end of the month.
Players’ top choice for jersey messages so far is “Equality,”according to ESPN.