Bob Costas Bashes Woke Athletes for China Cowardice

CLAY: Bit of news out there. Canada, England, Australia have all joined the United States in a diplomatic boycott of China over human rights violations in the Xianxian region with the Uyghur population — “genocide,” as the United States government has called it — and we reached out, by the way, to Enes Kanter Freedom, who has been wearing tennis shoes condemning China on the basketball court.

Enes Kanter told the New York Post that he was told by NBA officials, “Hey, can you please take those tennis shoes off, those sneakers off? They are going to offend China,” and the NBA doesn’t want to offend China because they make hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s interesting, Buck. Things have turned in a hurry as it pertains to China, and it seems like the Peng Shuai incident with the WTA, the Women’s Tennis Association.

For those of you who missed this story, this has turned into a monster pivot point, I believe, in U.S.-China relations. Peng Shuai was a women’s tennis player who accused a prominent Communist Party official of sexual assault, and then China effectively disappeared her. Well, in the past when China has stood up and slapped around sports leagues and companies, most of the sports leagues and the companies — the NBA in particular point of fact with what happened with Daryl Morey when he supported Hong Kong freedom — have tended to “shut up and dribble. ”

They’ve genuflected at the altar of Chairman Xi. They’ve done whatever they need you to do to try to avoid offending China. And that’s not just the NBA. It’s movie companies. It’s Disney. It’s Apple. It’s all of these different multinationals that have major connections request China. What’s interesting is when the WTA stood up and said, “We’re pulling all of our events out of China,” it seems to have provided a backbone to others, including many people who have been otherwise looking askance or looking away from the protests of guys like Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James. Greg Popovich. Steve Kerr.

Well, Bob Costas — who is one of the most legendary voices in the world of sports and also a quite intelligent guy — decided that he was finally ready to tee off on Colin Kaepernick and on LeBron James about why they’re so silent with everything going on in China. Here’s Bob Costas. Let’s play cut 11.

COSTAS: The NBA is up to its neck in China. China is a huge sports market. Basketball is especially popular there. But they will put up with not even the slightest criticism. By the way, a lot of Nike’s goods that benefit the likes of Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James? Made in China. And those outspoken individuals — and in many cases I think millions of Americans would agree with their positions on domestic issues, but — they are conspicuously mum when it comes to China. And no matter what the issues are here, and they are serious issues, in terms of dimension, they pale alongside what’s going on in China.

BUCK: So one of the things about the whole NBA-China and really just sports and big corporations and China, right — you can do this at different levels, different tier — is that it’s one of the few times where you can see, do people in prominent positions, very wealthy, very influential individuals…? We’re talking the CEO of Disney or LeBron James or the NBA league commissioner. Is it’s still…? What the guy’s name?

CLAY: Adam Silver.

BUCK: Silver, yeah. One of those guys. When it comes to taking a stand based on principal and you lose money or you lose access, then people can actually think your motives are altruistic; your motives are pure. When you’re taking a knee or you’re standing against police or you’re pulling the hoodie up or whatever, you just get acclaim from basically all of your fan base.

The only people that criticize you are people like you and now people like me ’cause we do the show together. Those are people that actually say, “Hold on a second. This isn’t brave,” and, by the way, not only is it not brave in the case of China, it’s very clear this what they’re doing is quite bad. Some of what the NBA players, NFL players, different companies proclaim or condemn is wrong.

So there’s that whole dynamic of it as well. So I think it is interesting you’re seeing the first real pushback on China from important figures and U.S. corporations. Will it stay, though, or not? Will this actually be a tipping point or is this just a blip I think is a question that remains to be seen. And it is also just in the background of all this China stuff, people hear, “Oh, there’s a Chinese company that’s in trouble right now.

“Is that really our problem?” Well, Evergrande… You have to remember, all the major Chinese corporations are state-sponsored or supported in some way. “State-supported entities,” they’ll often call them. Evergrande is a real estate-development company that’s missed some tens of millions of dollars of payments on debts that it has right now.

Evergrande, folks, has $300 billion of obligations, and some people watching this are saying, “This whole thing could just collapse in China.” So there is a moment here — just to bring this all together — where China economically is feeling a little fragile right now, and you have the Olympics pushback, and you have people like Enes Kanter speaking out from U.S. corporations. It’s not the Biden administration that’s causing problems for them, but the private sector is actually starting to give a little bit of the rough stuff to China.

CLAY: Yeah, and what’s gone on is it’s not brave to embrace woke capitalism, because woke capitalism makes you more money. When the NBA puts slogans on their jerseys — and when Nike and Apple and Disney all issue their Black Lives Matter support statements — that doesn’t actually cost them money. But when push comes to shove and they have real money at stake, it’s amazing how quiet they all get, and they deserve to be called out on this in terms of their hypocrisy.

And, Buck, the big question I always think is interesting, at what point do you choose money over honesty, money over authenticity, money over being a good citizen of the globe? And let me give you an example here. LeBron James likes to argue that he’s Muhammad Ali, right? He’s not. I wrote about this in my most recent book. He’s not remotely close. The modern-day Muhammad Ali, Buck, do you know what he would say?

He would stand up, confront communist dictators — even if it meant that he made less money from his shoes — and he would say, “Every human being deserves basic human rights. If China does not support basic human rights, then I’m not going to do business with them.” You know, LeBron could easily do this, Buck. He’s rich enough.

He could say, “Stop producing any of my products in China; bring it to the United States instead.” I’m not arguing for kids to be paying $200 for sneakers. How about you start to employ a lot of pooh poor kids in inner city neighborhoods? You’re from Akron. Imagine the impact if LeBron James said, “Nike, I want a factory built in inner-city Akron. I want it to employ young, minority workers who are otherwise under-skilled and underemployed, and I want my shoes produced here.” Nike would have to do it. That’s what Muhammad Ali would do. He would stand up to China. LeBron is not willing to do that.