The sports network, which enjoys its own lucrative arrangements with the NBA and China – and which, like the NBA, portrays itself as a strong voice for “social justice” in America – has largely ignored the NBA-China issue.
Nonetheless, the article did not present a flattering picture of the players’ endorsement deals with Chinese shoe and apparel companies that depend on slave labor in their supply chains:
Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom has spent months condemning his NBA brethren for not doing more to draw attention to human rights abuses in China. … [And] a bipartisan coalition in Congress…has called out NBA players who maintain lucrative contracts with four Chinese companies accused of being complicit in those violations. Li-Ning, Anta, Peak and 361 Degrees – all of which have NBA stars as reps – are identified by the U.S. government and human rights groups as using forced labor to produce their goods in China’s Xinjiang region…
Since the mid-2000s, more than 50 NBA players have signed deals with Chinese brands eager to capitalize on basketball’s popularity in the world’s most populous nation. The shoe deals had been business as usual until the Trump administration formally deemed China’s actions in Xinjiang a genocide just before leaving office in January 2021. The Biden administration repeated that designation in March.
As the U.S. and other countries grow more vocal in denouncing China’s actions in Xinjiang, Congress has repeatedly called upon NBA stars to drop their deals…
Unsurprisingly, ESPN said the players involved with the Chinese companies refused to comment.
“It is such a sensitive topic,” said one such player’s agent. “Nobody’s going to talk about it.”
However, Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, did have something to say.
“Shame on the athletes that are aware of what is happening – who have affiliations with brands that get Xinjiang cotton,” he told ESPN. “And we don’t use the word genocide lightly. … It is a genocide.”
To ESPN’s credit, the reporters noted their own network’s (and Disney’s) conflicts of interest in their business dealings with China. ESPN owns a small stake in NBA China and has a content-sharing partnership with Chinese broadcaster Tencent, which has censored games involving the Celtics, due to Kanter Freedom’s constant criticism of the communist government.
Considering those ties, however, ESPN/Disney is only giving the subject limited attention. Posting an article on the website is much different from the wall-to-wall broadcast coverage the network gave progressive social justice issues during the summer of riots in 2020. ESPN gave similar treatment to a story about abusive NBA training academies in China in August 2020.