Senator Scott, Rudy Gobert Go on Offense Against NBA China Hypocrisy

Rick Scott/PHOTO: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)

Florida’s two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, have been among the sharpest critics in the upper chamber of the human rights abuses, censorship, espionage, and other bad conduct by the Chinese. They have consistently called upon American companies to pull back on doing business in, or with, the communist country until the tyrannical government cleans up its behavior.

So the lawmakers can’t be happy about the latest development in Orlando, where the National Basketball Association this year has held its abbreviated season (in what they call the “bubble,” keeping all teams in one city to mitigate against the effects of COVID-19), and is now in the midst of its championship series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat. As I will explain in a moment, Chinese-style censorship has come to central Florida.

All summer the NBA drew attention because nearly all its players – led by superstar LeBron James of the Lakers – have been the most outspoken among professional athletes in support of “Black Lives Matter,” and in criticism of law enforcement and alleged “systemic racism” in the United States, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and others in confrontations with police.

But hypocritically, the NBA has maintained close ties to China as it has sought to expand its audience and revenue opportunities. The desire to preserve favor with the government has kept almost non-existent any criticisms by teams or players of human rights abuses against Hong Kongers and the Muslim-minority Uyghurs, as two high-profile examples of China’s many brutal offenses.

Now the censorship has extended to Orlando. As reported by the New York Post over the weekend, National Legal and Policy Center intended to sponsor a billboard campaign in the city surrounding the “bubble,” specifically condemning James for failing to speak out against China, while reserving his harshest criticisms for alleged law enforcement “racism” in the U.S. The proposed billboard features James’s image with his mouth covered by a Chinese flag, with the phrase “Silence is Violence” – and calls attention to NLPC’s Web site.

However the billboard company, national advertising behemoth Outfront Media, refused to run the campaign

“We cannot accept the ad as it is right now,” a representative for Outfront informed NLPC in an email, adding that the company would only put up the billboards if James’s image was removed. “The Chinese flag is Ok, and the silence is violence is ok,” the rep said.

NLPC President Peter Flaherty refused to alter the ad, however.

“Some messages are too important to be suppressed,” Flaherty told the Postin an interview. “When it comes to human rights in China, silence is indeed violence. We should be able to call LeBron on his hypocrisy without this censorship.”

As the most talented and highest profile player – in a category among the greatest of all time with Michael Jordan – James indeed is the face of the NBA. Media consistently go to him for comment on race issues in the U.S. and amplify favorably his every word. Broadcast partners ESPN, ABC, and Turner Sports, in multi-billion dollar contracts with the league, don’t dare to ask players or team officials about China.

After Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey last year got his hand slapped for tweeting in support of Hong Kong, it wasn’t until last week that another NBA personality raised his voice against China. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert wrote in a Thursday Instagram post, “Wrong is wrong,” sharing a post by actor and human rights activist Omar Sy in protest of the treatment of the Uyghurs.

On Thursday Sen. Scott thanked Gobert for his boldness in a tweet.

The supportive message followed a flurry of activity on the subject by Scott on the day prior. On Wednesday he introduced a resolution in the Senate – blocked by Democrats – that condemned “the gross human rights violations in Communist China” and urged the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Games out of China. The same day he sent a letter to leaders of NBA teams, Fortune 500 companies, the United Nations and American media, urging them to use their power and influence to pressure China to address its human rights violations.

“Human rights are universal—they apply at all times and in all places…,” Scott wrote. “Today, I am urging you – in your roles as Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, business leaders, athletes, journalists and broadcasters, to choose human rights and stand with the Uyghurs and Hong Kongers living under the oppression of Communist China. I urge you to choose human rights over profits, and to choose human rights over the convenience of turning a blind eye.”

Specifically addressing the NBA, he wrote, “I urge the NBA and its athletes to use their platform to stand up for human rights, and stop playing games in Communist China.”

Now Scott needs to add a name to the addressees of his letter – that of the leader of Outfront Media, CEO Jeremy Male.