The NBA's Airball on Human Rights

October 13, 2020

Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban was pressed to answer why, exactly, he along with the entire National Basketball Association (NBA) claimed to promote human rights, but looked the other way concerning China's gross human rights abuses. His justification was simple -- for money.

He told Megyn Kelly on her podcast Monday that, "They are a customer of ours, and guess what, Megyn? I'm OK with doing business with China. And so, we have to pick our battles. I wish we could solve all the world's problems. But we can't." Apparently for Mark Cuban, China's campaign of suppression against Uyghur Muslims through mass internment and forced labor is not enough to warrant his criticism, though he's happy to "put a priority on domestic issues."

As Uyghurs in Xinjiang are enduring what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rightly calls the "stain of the century," the NBA is happy to stay silent because China is a "customer."

But fans are done buying the NBA's hypocrisy -- literally. Viewership of the NBA Finals this year are down 66 percent from 2019.

That is a major loss for the NBA and surveys indicate the league's political hypocrisy is partially to blame. In September, a poll found that 39 percent of respondents who identified themselves as sports fans said the league was too political. Another 19% indicated they disliked the NBA's ties to China.

The NBA has proven too cowardly to stand for the most basic human rights when faced with the possibility of losing Chinese profits.

Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert recently made headlines by sharing a post on his Instagram Story that read, "Wrong is wrong." The caption of the original post Gobert shared exposed China's re-education camps for Uyghur Muslims: "Millions of Uyghur Muslims are detained and tortured in concentration camps in China. Not for what they do, but for who they are."

With the simple act of sharing an Instagram Story which only lasts 24 hours, Gobert became the first NBA player to publicly acknowledge China's human rights abuses against Uyghurs.

This is such a small stand for what is right, and under normal circumstances it would not warrant national headlines. However, loyalty is prized in the NBA, and Gobert probably knew the cost that might come with acknowledging any wrongdoing by the Chinese government.

When Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey posted a Tweet in support of Hong Kong last year as the city was facing Chinese aggression, Chinese broadcasters immediately threatened to cut ties, pressuring Morey to retract his Tweet and securing an apology from NBA.

Millions of viewers watch the NBA in China. But to keep that viewership, the NBA must affirm the authoritarian Chinese government even as it enforces Mao-like crackdown campaigns on religious minorities. Mark Cuban and the NBA have shown that this is a trade they are willing to make.

Rushan Abbas, Founder of Campaign for Uyghurs, expressed her disappointment in Cuban's comments, saying, "Those who cannot condemn something so blatantly evil have clearly chosen money over human lives, and Mark Cuban's statements are in contrast to the values of humanity. A responsible leader would use such a platform to do the right thing rather than line his own pockets."

Rushan Abbas knows first-hand the tragedy of the Chinese government's blatant abuses against Uyghurs. In 2018, just days after she spoke on a panel event in Washington D.C. about human rights in China, Rushan received word that her sister who still lived in Xinjiang was "disappeared" by the Chinese government. Over two years later, Rushan still does not know where her sister is or how she is doing.

Rushan's sister, and the millions of other religious believers increasingly oppressed by China, are exactly the people Mark Cuban refuses to acknowledge. The way China is treating its religious minorities is reprehensible, and it should not take a lot of courage to say that. The NBA prides itself on its activism and progressive values. But if they truly want to make a difference, they should target the largest human rights violator in the world today, the Chinese government. Profits must never be valued over people, and human rights should never be for sale.