NBA players and fans alike have many reasons to oppose US provocations, lies and threats.
“The corporate media that speculate about ‘concentration camps’ in China never condemn the very real concentration camps that exist in the U.S.A.”
The Disney-owned ESPN corporation has joined rightwing Senators Joshua Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marsha Blackburn in pressuring the National Basketball Association (NBA) to join the U.S.’ New Cold War against China. In an article of 3,000-plus words, ESPN summarized its “investigation” of the NBA’s relationship with China that began after Rocket’s General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support of the Hong Kong protests back in October 2019. While the reporters found it difficult to maintain focus on the subject, the conclusion is clear. According to ESPN, China is everything that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the rest of the Trump administration says it is: a country devoid of “human rights” and one that could not possibly tolerate the values of the U.S.’ “democratic” arrangement. However, ESPN’s coverage of China’s supposed wrongdoing relies upon anonymous and unverified sources and reads more like a speech from Mike Pompeo than credible journalism.
The report comes at the same time that the U.S. is waging a dangerous and multifaceted New Cold War against China. ESPN’s descent into political innuendo closely resembles the USDA’s warning that “mystery seeds” from China have landed in American mailboxes. The corporation accused Chinese coaches working in NBA training academies of using corporal punishment against players and refusing to provide youth participants a decent education. Less than a handful of anonymous sources allegedly validate ESPN’s claims from direct experience but their observations went entirely unverified. The authors claim that their sources were afraid for their livelihoods. Still, this doesn’t excuse the fact that no true effort was made to obtain evidence in the form of emails, photos, or other forms of leaks to verify their observations.
“ESPN’s coverage reads more like a speech from Mike Pompeo than credible journalism.”
The article reveals that the investigation was not as fruitful as ESPN would like it to appear. Much of the article regurgitates State Department talking points on everything from Hong Kong to Xinjiang. The ESPN investigation supposedly found that Xinjiang was repressive for Uyghur players and foreign NBA staffers alike. While the anonymous sources claimed that participants in Xinjiang’s NBA training academy were packed eight to ten in a room, they somehow could not verify whether the so-called “government crackdown” on Uyghurs affected players at the academy in any way. All readers are left with is a fairy tale image of an evil China where a child-beating, surveillance-obsessed Communist Party rules.
Ironically, the ESPN article is written by a pair of brothers, one of whom, Steve Fainaru, has written extensively on the impact of U.S. mercenaries and military contractors in Iraq. Fainaru conducted his investigation by embedding himself in Crescent Security Group and witnessed the atrocities of war firsthand. In his article for ESPN, Fainaru abandons such journalistic rigor in place of State Department talking points. Xinjiang is painted as a “police state” where millions of Uyghurs are detained in camps. Fainaru’s passion for the plight of Uyghurs did not compel him to reach out to Reuters or the scores of foreign journalists from 24 different countries who visited Xinjiang on two occasions in January and July of 2019. One may understand the hesitancy, of course, since the U.S. political establishment immediately set out to suppress the content of the visits and demonize them as “choreographed” by China’s central government.
“Fainaru abandons such journalistic rigor in place of State Department talking points.”
Perhaps even more ironic is the fact that the majority of official reporting on Xinjiang’s so-called “Uyghur concentration camps” is the product of shoddy research conducted by Adrian Zenz. Zenz is a far-right evangelical “scholar” who believes he is on a mission from god to take down China’s government. While he has recently become the primary source for all things Xinjiang in Washington D.C., his broader work includes outright support for corporal punishment himself in the form of “spiritual spanking” and the comparison of hate crime legislation to the anti-Christ. His conclusion that one million Uyghurs are detained in “concentration camps” stems from a singular report from the Turkish-based Isqital TV, which possesses deep ties to the separatist group ETIM responsible for the thousands of terrorist attacks committed in China between the years of 1990-2016. Zenz is also a member of the U.S. government-funded Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and routinely cites Radio Free Asia, another U.S.-funded foundation that was created by the CIA.
Zenz and his supporters in the corporate media have provided cover for the U.S.’ New Cold War against China. Constant speculation about the condition of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang inspired the passage of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act late last year. This bill arms the U.S. president with the power to sanction Communist Party of China officials should reports from the U.S. Agency for Global Media (the parent agency of Radio Free Asia) compel him to do so. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, also passed last year, requires the United States to sanction entities and individuals in China related to “human rights abuses” in Hong Kong. Over fifty percent of all U.S. military assets reside in the Asia Pacific, including over 400 military bases that conduct thousands of operations in the South China Sea alone. ESPN’s investigation clearly demonstrates that the NBA is a key battleground for U.S. journalists and their political allies in Washington to fuel the U.S.’ New Cold War against China and the racist demonization campaigns that make it possible.
“Over fifty percent of all U.S. military assets reside in the Asia Pacific.”
NBA players and fans alike have many reasons to oppose the U.S.’ New Cold War against China. Over seventy percent of NBA players are Black American. Support for the uprising against police brutality from players such as Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon ultimately pressured the league to adopt measures that appeal to the movement’s principles. Many players grew up in and remain connected to Black communities under constant surveillance from police departments that harass, brutalize, and kill Black people each and every day. The corporate media and the political class that speculates about “concentration camps” in China never condemns the very real concentration camps that exist in the U.S.A. Over forty percent of the two million people locked in prison and/or solitary confinement are Black American and this includes dozens of political prisoners. Allegations of “repression” against nations that the U.S. does not like thus ring hollow to many whose ancestors were taken captive, enslaved, and then forced to live in a modern apartheid regime that continues to this day.
NBA players such as Lebron James were every bit correct not to interfere in China’s internal affairs and pledge their support for the U.S.-backed Hong Kong protest movement or any other policy of the New Cold War. In a period where Department for Homeland Security is disappearing protestors, Black communities are being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and trillions of U.S. dollars are spent waging wars abroad, NBA players and their working-class fans should be wondering why so much outrage is being leveled at China and not these critical homegrown issues. Neither Senator Joshua Hawley nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have paid any attention to Black America and when they do it is to condemn the movement for Black lives. China hawks have derided NBA players for placing their business interests ahead of “human rights.” Just as Black activists have been condemned by ruling elites as dupes of Russia and China, so too have NBA players been painted as greedy hirelings of China’s business plantation.
“Neither Senator Hawley nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have paid any attention to Black America.”
The U.S.’ New Cold War against China provides NBA players with an opportunity to break with the dominance of American exceptionalism and corporate discipline in American sports culture. For decades, sports leagues like the NBA and their corporate sponsors have given ideological support to U.S. military adventurism by painting the U.S. as the most progressive and “civilized” society on earth even as they punished players like Craig Hodges, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and Colin Kaepernick for attempting to hold the U.S. accountable to its supposed values. China offers more than just a business opportunity for NBA players; it offers respite from U.S. hypocrisy. Dozens of current and former NBA players are connected to China’s 300 million-strong basketball community and have witnessed the progress of the anti-poverty campaign inside of the country. In Xinjiang alone, two million Uyghurs have been lifted out of poverty in the last five years, and cities across the region have become hubs for tourism. NBA players should talk more openly about their experiences in China and urge Washington to abandon its New Cold War against the country.
This would go a long way toward the development of a peace movement in the United States that could strengthen the movement against police brutality and racism at home. NBA players who have been inspired to fight racism should be encouraged to become global citizens who fight for a justice that includes peace. ESPN’s “investigation” is an attempt not only to break the NBA’s business dealings within China but also to sow divisions between the movement against racism in the United States and nations around the world confronting the threat of U.S. militarism abroad. Internationalism, or the principle that oppressed peoples and nations must unite and offer concrete solidarity to each other in the struggle against global imperialism, has been a significant component of the Black freedom movement in the United States since its inception. On this Black August, NBA players becoming increasingly active in movement politics must condemn the U.S.’ New Cold War against China and learn about the Black political prisoners in the U.S. who reside in actual concentration camps because of their just fight for a society that signifies the principles of internationalism and social justice in the flesh. The Black Alliance for Peace, No Cold War, and the Jericho Movement are good places to start.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He is the co-host with BAR Editor Margaret Kimberly of the Youtube show BAR Presents: The Left Lens and can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @spiritofho.
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