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An open letter from a Chinese NBA fan

An open letter to NBA commissioner David Stern, and former Cleveland Cavalier Ira Newble.

Dear NBA commissioner David Stern, and Ira Newble of the Los Angeles Lakers:

As a long time fan of NBA basketball, I can tell you unabashedly: I love this game. I have followed the league since Michael Jordon’s first MVP season in 1988, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching NBA basketball in person in nine different arenas from coast to coast.

Many of my fellow Chinese have also become devoted NBA fans. We appreciate the warm welcome that the league has shown each of our national heroes (Wang Zhizhi, Yao Ming, Mengke Bateer, and Yi Jianlian) as they proudly put on their NBA team jerseys and marched out onto the court.  We have also come to love, respect, and root for the talented players from around the world competing at this highest of levels.  The NBA has become the world’s game. Regardless of language, time zone, religious affiliation, and political leaning, people from around the planet marvel at another Lebron James 360, another Kobe Bryant step-back three, and another Tim Duncan facial.

The game of basketball is simple and clear. Regardless of where it’s played, the basket is exactly 10 feet high, and the court is exactly 94 feet long. Even if we don’t always agree with the referees interpretation of the action, we understand that there are fouls. And this simplicity is what unites teenagers playing on the blacktop in Shenzhen with teenagers playing in a Spanish gym.

However, I believe this simplicity is being threatened. I am both saddened and worried that your off-the-court actions might be endangering the future of this game.

Over the past year, the media has been filled with reports of Mr. Newble’s activism on behalf of Darfur, and commissioner Stern’s implied support for such activism. No one can find fault with those who work on behalf of the refugees of Darfur.  But perhaps what Mr. Newble perhaps doesn’t realize is that a potentially compassionate campaign has been turned into a political agenda that not all of us agree with.

I am not a politician, and I will not try to convince Mr. Newble here that his agenda is wrong or misguided. In fact, as a citizen of America (and of the world), Mr. Newble has the right to make his articulate opinion heard. I note that Mr. Newble has also publicly asked American presidential candidates for their opinions on Darfur, and that’s an admirable act on his part.

But I will ask, as a fan of the game of basketball, does political debate really belong around professional basketball?  Unlike the game of basketball, the rules for international politics and intervention is neither simple nor clear. The world can agree that a shot from behind the line is worth 3-pts; we can’t all agree that economic sanctions are the best way of solving a humanitarian crisis.  Many of us passionately disagree.

So, does it make sense for athletes to use their basketball fame to push forward such a divisive political agenda? If the Beijing Olympics are an appropriate venue for petitioning the Chinese government on a political issue, then are the NBA Finals also an appropriate venue for petitioning the American government on political issues? Should Ira Newble and the Olympians on this year’s US Dream Team be using their constant presence on national TV to speak out on the other key issues of our times?

For example, Mr. Newble, are you aware of the tremendous suffering of the Iraqi people? Or the continued poverty in inner-city communities? How do you feel about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage? What is your stance on abortion rights? As a personal of intelligence and conscience, I can imagine you have a clear opinion on many of the above issues as well. But when will you rally your teammates and use the media spotlight granted you to make your stance clear?

Commissioner Stern, you have said that it’s “great” your players are involving them in such issues. Will you make your position more clear? Do you believe that players should also use the NBA playoffs as a platform for making political demands of the American government? Perhaps with a banner, or a well-timed shout just as the Star Spangled Banner hits those high notes before its glorious finish?

And if all of the above comes to pass, what will the NBA become? Will we see more players painted by the media as a political enemy, just because they (like Lebron James) prefer to stay silent on political issues? Will the NBA still be an entertaining game in which the world can be united? Or will it become yet another relic, destroyed by the political issues that divide us?

I love this game, but I do not love the politics that divide man. Please don’t mix these two items together.

– Tang Buxi

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  1. Nimrod
    June 1st, 2008 at 02:21 | #1

    As anybody who has worked knows, talking about politics is one of the biggest no-no’s of the workplace. Do it on your own time, but not at work. The problem is, the Olympics is not work-time for these guys, so if they want to make a political point at the Olympics, the NBA certainly can’t forbid them. On the other hand, I don’t understand why the NBA is encouraging it, because these players represent the brand of NBA regardless of whether they are “working” or not.

  2. Andrew
    June 1st, 2008 at 02:40 | #2

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen! Go watch the CBA, if you don’t want to be bothered by politics. The man has a right to support whatever cause he wants, in whatever fashion he wants. Why don’t you complain to the Chinese networks who are ludicrously refusing to broadcast the entire playoffs over ONE man’s opinion. I hope your pleas fall on deaf ears. Get a life. Picking on these people for their personal opinions is a waste of time, and makes everybody who does so look like a complete fool. Chinese patriots are starting to become as annoying as the religious right in the US.

  3. Nimrod
    June 1st, 2008 at 02:58 | #3

    Andrew, you have no idea what you say is the reason why the playoffs aren’t shown, and neither does anybody.

    But for the sake of argument, let’s say that is the reason. The NBA is a business, and Chinese broadcasters are its partners and clients. It is perfectly within the purview of businesses to make these decisions and in reality they react to much lesser affronts. I don’t care if a man wants to express a personal opinion, a political point, or even make a racist remark, but when said man is doing so while entangling his employer, his employer pays. Welcome to the real world.

  4. Alvin
    June 1st, 2008 at 03:42 | #4

    @Nimrod: But where does it end? Do the Chinese really want people to keep their mouth’s shut or would they prefer to discuss and debate in an open forum? I don’t agree with Ira Newbie but I am 100% against any censorhip of his comments. He is making personal attempts to persuade his co-workers and the NBA cannot be held responsible. It can’t. In this case, the employer certainly should not pay.

    @ArticleAuthor: David Stern supports Ira Newbie’s activism because, in the West, there is NOTHING wrong with supporting a person’s freedom to express their feelings in whatever venue they choose. Let’s not forget that David Stern early was against a boycott of the Olympics. You can’t paint David Stern as a supporter of Ira Newbie’s comments.

    My question for everyone is what is so dangerous about Ira Newbie’s actions? Why is it so important to silence him?

    Ira Newbie did not block the NBA. David Stern did not block the NBA. CCTV blocked the NBA. We all lose by supporting the CCTV’s censorship.

  5. Buxi
    June 1st, 2008 at 04:07 | #5

    I’m not supporting the CCTV’s “censorship”, if that’s what it was. I think it’s absolutely idiotic if it’s related to politics. However, I frankly have a hard time believing it *is* related to politics. The much more believable explanation I’ve heard is that it’s related to licensing fees. CCTV didn’t feel whatever the NBA was charging for the semi-finals were worth it. The Celtics / Lakers willl be back on CCTV-5 however, and Chinese NBA fans should rightly celebrate.

    However, I firmly disagree with Newbie’s position on both Darfur and the Beijing Olympics. And because he’s made these comments not in his private capacity, but as a NBA player (while also calling on Olympics on the USA team to speak out), I’m annoyed at him, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA, and team USA (in decreasing order of actual annoyance… at this point in time).

    I’ve just confirmed my tickets for the USA/China basketball game in Beijing on August 10th. If anyone on Team USA uses his presence at the Olympics as a platform to “pressure” Beijing, then I will be sure to use my right to vocally express my displeasure with him, his team, and his country. And frankly, if it comes to that, I think it will have been a shame. I’d rather spend my Olympics cheering for a good athletic match, not a pseudo-political battle.

    As far as him having the right to “support whatever he wants”… wake up. The NBA fines their players for dressing inappropriately on the sidelines. Let me give all of the NBA novices out there a name they can google: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He refused to stand for the playing of the US National Anthem; he thought it was a “symbol of oppression”. The NBA suspended him for it; there’s that fabulous freedom of speech those in the West get to enjoy.

  6. June 1st, 2008 at 04:21 | #6

    @Buxi – I really don’t see how you blame this one on the NBA, just like I can’t see how the Chinese government could blame the French nation as a whole for the actions of a few (mainly Tibetan) protesters. This is an attempt to silence people in the west by using nationalistic boycotts totally against the spirit of free trade and free speech – and to do so in a manner without even admitting that that was what they are doing. What modern, civilised governments act in this fashion? Instructing travel agents to drop all package holidays to France not because of any official policy of that country’s government, but from some childish idea of getting back at the French in general? Dropping the NBA from their schedules just because of the political views of one of a single athelete? Many of the Olympic atheletes also share views which I suppose the CCP would label ‘harmful to the nation’ – perhaps CCTV should refuse to show the Olympic games for that reason?

    I simply cannot believe you would go along with this knee-jerk idiocy.

  7. June 1st, 2008 at 04:38 | #7

    @Buxi – “I’m not supporting the CCTV’s “censorship”, if that’s what it was.”

    Okay, I took your original posting as an endorsement of the boycott without reading this, but I’m not so sure that you’re right about it not being political. The fact is that it’s up to the NBA to decide what the limits of political expression of its atheletes are – but only when they are on the court, off court they should be allowed to do what they like. Pure political plugs (like an athelete wearing a ‘vote Hillary’ jersey, for example) are something I would be uncomfortable with in an sports event – but this is not the same as saying that the people involved have no right to political opinions.

  8. yo
    June 1st, 2008 at 04:46 | #8

    @Alvin
    “David Stern supports Ira Newbie’s activism because, in the West, there is NOTHING wrong with supporting a person’s freedom to express their feelings in whatever venue they choose.”

    I doubt that is his reason. That is equivalent of saying i support gay rights activists because I support their “freedom of speech”, it’s a flimsy reason because it doesn’t connect with each other. In addition, you alluded that supporting a person’s freedom to express their feelings in whatever venue they choose is “wrong” in China, legally or morally. This is an inaccurate perception of China. There is nothing stopping me from supporting Hu Jia in the same capacity as Stern with Newble for example.

    “My question for everyone is what is so dangerous about Ira Newbie’s actions? Why is it so important to silence him?”

    That is not the issue in the letter.

    @FOARP
    “I simply cannot believe you would go along with this knee-jerk idiocy.”

    I think you are mis-representing Buxi’s position. The jist of his argument is politics should stay away from sport.

  9. June 1st, 2008 at 04:47 | #9

    Funny. Because of the CCTV action, I know more about Ira Newble’s position that I ever cared to know. I’m not an NBA fan so it’s been off my radar. Now I’m going to have to google him, NBA, and Darfur. I’ll have to education myself but because the attention is directed to Newble, I’ll probably start with him. So my opinions are thus shaped…

    Now, Newble’s action isn’t going to make a great impact on public opinion inside China. In the West, we’re going to hear that the Chinese are once again reacting to something or another. Most Westerners, if they are even idly interested, are going to read something within the Newble news cloud. So their opinions are thus shaped…

    At some point, the Chinese government, and I’m assuming the impetuous is from the government as I don’t buy that this is a business decision by the CCTV, is going to figure out how to play with the West. Blocking the NBA, which has a growing popularity, hence a growing revenue source for the CCTV, backfires in the West and hurts CCTV’s bottom line. Silly. When a group of kids push another group out of the playground, the bystanders are no longer idle and they become interested in the group pushed out.

    They should have just let the boys play. People would watch. Some would use it as a platform. Which is fine. Instead of getting flustered, look forward to the attention. Give your side. Let it drop.

    It may sound simplistic. But making a noise about how bad someone else is, can make you look stupid. Just look at Sharon Stone.

    It would be really good if the Chinese government could figure this out before the medals get awarded in the Olympics. Because if they pout over what some athlete might say on or off the podium, its going to backfire.

    These are just my initial thoughts. Now I’m off to dig a bit.

  10. June 1st, 2008 at 05:09 | #10

    Newble wrote a letter to China last year?
    http://www.realcavsfans.com/showthread.php?t=7861
    Why would this be political news now?

    CCTV stops it now during the semi-finals?
    http://shanghaiist.com/2008/05/28/cctv_stops_airi.php
    Did they give a press release as to why? or are they just leaving it up to the media to speculate?

    China Daily says CCTV says it’s because of the earthquake.
    http://www.chinadaily.net/cndy/2008-05/27/content_6712951.htm
    That’s what the 3 days were about – official morning. What are your thoughts about CCTV canceling the broadcasting because “the coverage is not in step with the atmosphere of quake rescue”? Are other programming affected?

    Here’s what Marbridge Consulting is saying…
    http://www.marbridgeconsulting.com/marbridgedaily/2008-05-30/article/16720/cctv_halts_nba_broadcasts_in_china

    According to newspaper New Express, CCTV halted NBA game broadcasts as a protest against those voices within the NBA criticizing China over certain political issues.

    They are quoting another news source… Anybody ask CCTV why? or are we happy going with conjecture?

    Okay. That’s after a quick search. I didn’t find anything on Xinhua.

    So. I don’t know why the CCTV cancelled the NBA semi-finals.

    Currently, the English home page of http://english.cctv.com/index.shtml shows an NBA story…
    http://www.cctv.com/program/sportsscene/20080531/101254.shtml
    Not what I’d expect from an organization that is trying to ignore the NBA.
    But still, I’m not finding an official reason why they would stop showing the game.

    So. Suddenly a licensing fee issue becomes not a bad hypothesis as to why.

    In the meantime, everybody is guessing it has something to do about Newble.

    Lesson to CCTV – issue a press release. In an information vacuum, the media (East and West) will let their imaginations go wild to find the story.

  11. bleargh
    June 1st, 2008 at 05:12 | #11

    Seriously, who are these activists appealing to with their meaningless slogans? Chinese people? If they think that their thoughtless rhetorics and their 3 second moral preaching are going to convince the Chinese people to push their government for a change that isn’t in CCP’s ability, they are dead wrong. Has any amount of protesting changed the situation in Iraq? Social activism is becoming over-rated and meaningless. Everyone is doing it, even when they don’t know what they are talking about. Just pick up a sign and chant slogans, and you will be a good citizen. Their protests are going to do nothing more than cause annoyance and indignation on the Chinese population.

    Now if they are appealing to foreign audience to push their government to pressure the Chinese government to “stop the genocide”, that’s ridiculous and hopeless. That is also a huge humiliation for the Chinese people, if their country bend to such pressure.

    Of course, these people have the right to speak their mind, but I don’t think it is violating their freedom of speech by disagreeing and criticizing their position and their method of activism.

  12. June 1st, 2008 at 05:32 | #12

    Crap. I just submitted a post and it disappeared into the Internet void. You’ll have to trust me that it was brilliant and solved world peace.

    Now for something less brilliant.

    I did a bit of digging.

    Newble wrote a letter to China last year about Darfur and the CCTV’s Jiang Heping told Reuters that “These games are not in accordance with the atmosphere of the nation after the devastation of the earthquake. They are too entertaining.”
    http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-32-238/NBA-Off-the-Air-in-China.html

    So, this is an answer that most media (especially Western) is going to have a hard time accepting. So they will have to figure out what the real reason is. In step Newble. This is something we can understand, right?

    I don’t know what the real reason was in the boardrooms of the CCTV but I do know that speculation has taken a life on of its own.

    Sorry Buxi, respectfully, you might be saying that politics should stay away from sports but your post is using the CCTV/NBA issue as a launching point against a few in the NBA – which only directs attention to their position on Darfur. It also builds the fire under the hypothesis that the reason is censorship.

    The CCTV says the reason is decorum. Challenge them on that.

  13. Nimrod
    June 1st, 2008 at 05:48 | #13

    Alvin, I appreciate your comments, but you and Andrew jumped to your own kneejerk conclusions and are hitting a strawman: that we’re here silencing people. I’m not.

    All I did was to point out the potential trouble an employee could bring to an employer by his actions.

    There are different levels of controversy. Yao Ming did an ad with the Red Cross for earthquake relief. That’s almost universally accepted (except possibly by a pre-contrite Sharon Stone, heh). But the closer you get to controversial topics — politics is always controversial — the more you ask for trouble. The Darfur-China link is China-bashing at its worst. Newble bringing it up instead of spending more energy on the humanitarian side of his work is plain stupid. Involving his employer and the Olympics make it three times worse.

    Buxi is making an even subtler point that the NBA risks losing its hard-earned global appeal if these sorts of things become more frequent. I read this as not even about China or Newble specifically.

    Now, back to your point. Ballplayers are often disciplined by the club or league for various verbal and other offenses off work that amount to nothing illegal. It is their free speech and you say the NBA is not responsible. Yet through its actions, the NBA certainly begs to differ and feels it is responsible. Maybe it’s unfair but it comes with the job as a star that interacts with the general public and gets his paycheck through “image” as much as work.

  14. S.K. Cheung
    June 1st, 2008 at 07:47 | #14

    I am not a big NBA fan, and before today, would have had a hard time listing the LakeShow’s starting 5, let alone some guy called Newble; and now, I’ve read more about him than I’ll ever care to again. He is using his “fame” (if one could call it that) as a soapbox, and you’ve just perpetuated his relevance by giving him the megaphone. This is just like the Sharon Stone stuff…why make a mountain of a mole hill? Many famous people use their celebrity to further their ideas in other arenas; athletes (perhaps owing to their “dumb jock” sterotypes) tend not to, but there’s no reason to doubt their capacity for opinions, and for a few, the willingness to share them.
    As for the NBA, it’s a business, and a big one at that. So their decisions are business decisions, not moral or political ones. So a second line point guard on a crappy Nuggets team stiffing the anthem isn’t going to play well, and gets reprimanded. A person in the second largest US media market shining a light on Darfur plays well domestically, and might do damage to a future potential market, but on the whole might be given a free pass today; a person doing the same thing 10 years from now might not be viewed as favourably by his NBA bosses.
    As for mixing politics with other stuff, where do you draw the line? Can you mix law and politics? Engineering? Accounting? Acting? Gardening? Can Martha Stewart have an opinion on politics, on top of home decor and insider trading? I don’t think the Newbles of the world are politicizing sport, but the ones who worry about what the Newbles have to say.
    As for me, I’d rather spend time wondering about which of the Celtics big 3 that Kobe will posterize during the finals.

  15. June 1st, 2008 at 08:32 | #15

    If we’re talking politics instead of basketball, the Darfur-China link seems a bit tenuous. The arms are not from China and “China was the first non-African nation to send peacekeepers to Darfur and the biggest development aid provider to the region”. Also, China’s involvement in developing African resources would require stability rather than instability to be successful.

    Ironically, I think that it is precisely this involvement that make them an easy target to anti-China sentiments. It also perks a bit of paranoia in the West.

    I do agree with Buxi that the NBA should not, as an organization, make a political statement. NBA is basketball not a political podium. So when Commissioner Stern gives approval to the political activities of his players, he politicizes the NBA. Once politicized, the NBA is open game for criticism such as Buxi’s. Moreover, he opens the door to various TV carriers to drop them. (Political activism is not the same as social awareness.)

    What Newble does on his own time is his own business. Stern should have stuck with that.

    From An open letter from a Chinese NBA fan, 2008/06/01 at 7:52 AM

  16. Buxi
    June 1st, 2008 at 14:47 | #16

    MutantJedi,

    The CCTV issue has been on the minds of many recently, and it helped bring the issue to the forefront again. But in my mind at least, I don’t believe it’s linked to the Darfur issue. If it was, why are the NBA finals back on CCTV5? Has Stern or Newble “apologized”? Has the Darfur issue disappeared?

    If I was going to pull a theory out of thin air… I think it’s more believable that CCTV blocked out the first few games of the conference finals because of the earthquake memorial, and then didn’t want to pay full licensing rates for the rest of the finals.

    The primary reason I wrote this letter at this time is because of this:
    http://www.abcnews.go.com/Sports/story?id=4886373&page=1

    Lebron James is being pushed through the media into making a stand on what is, again, a divisive political issue that millions of Chinese NBA fans disagree on. And this letter serves as a simple reminder of what that eventually implies.

    So their decisions are business decisions, not moral or political ones. So a second line point guard on a crappy Nuggets team stiffing the anthem isn’t going to play well, and gets reprimanded. A person in the second largest US media market shining a light on Darfur plays well domestically, and might do damage to a future potential market, but on the whole might be given a free pass today;

    S.K. Cheung, we agree completely. I’m appealing precisely to the NBA’s business sense. If they continue to implicitly permit and encourage any divisive political agenda, it’s going to anger some of their fans. If they continue to implicitly push the Darfur issue, it’s not going to “play well” amongst many Chinese fans.

    As far as linking politics with any issue… let everyone tread carefully. Ignore the China implications for a second; how often do you see businesses (big and small) involved in political advocacy? Have you seen an anti-abortion rally sponsored by Samsung? An anti-war rally sponsored by Pepsi?

    Businesses and public figures have the “right” to make their political positions known; consumers have the “right” to make their disagreement known.

  17. June 1st, 2008 at 17:56 | #17

    Buxi,
    Thanks for the abcnews link. It put your post into context.

    I agree, once a business takes a political stand, it has to expect to be responded to politically.

    NBA back on CCTV? When did that happen? I’m so out of the loop.

    And also I agree with your theory. In the West, I would hazard to guess, a press release saying as much would have pulled the Darfur air right out of the story. Spin it right and the CCTV could have the press circling the NBA for why they are so heartless not to cut the Chinese a deal. If you don’t fill a vacuum, someone else will.

    And you know what… I’m embarrassed. Your posting didn’t mention the CCTV at all.

  18. Jane
    June 1st, 2008 at 18:01 | #18

    I tend to agree with Andrew on this one in the general scheme of things. Instead of criticizing Newble & NBA, perhaps you should’ve outlined why you disagree with the Darfur activists. They have the right to present their argument and you have the right to counter their argument. It bothers me that you are somewhat implying that they shouldn’t speak their mind period.

    You don’t have to tell them that this type of activity may end up hurting the NBA and hence Newble shouldn’t politicize the NBA. It’s much better if Newble et al. learn it on their own (i.e. through Chinese people presenting their counter argument, and if he does anything on court in Beijing, the spectators can voice their approval or disapproval). It’s always bad if you shut people up without convincing them that their argument is not correct or at least make them question their position.

    Finally, I do think Chinese people pay way too much attention to these supposed celebrities. The US/European countries wouldn’t blink an eye if some Chinese actress or athlete make such comments. I hadn’t heard of Sharon Stone’s comment until it came up on these Chinese blog sites and I hadn’t heard of this Newble person until I read about him here. Instead of making a huge fuss out of these nobodies, vote with your wallet, don’t buy their dvds, don’t buy their sponsors’ products, tell your friends not to buy these things too. That’s the best way to get the point across.

  19. Eric
    June 1st, 2008 at 20:29 | #19

    Buxi: The mark of a serious thinker is a willingness to temporarily suspend allegiance to contrived groups in order to properly evaluate an issue.

    You write that Americans should review the case of “Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He refused to stand for the playing of the US National Anthem; he thought it was a “symbol of oppression”. The NBA suspended him for it; there’s that fabulous freedom of speech those in the West get to enjoy.”

    In this statement, I get the feelin that you feel that freedom of speech is a good thing (given that you are excoriating the NBA or the more vague ‘west’ for not allowing it.)

    In that case, don’t you think it’s counterproductive to say “LOOK THE WEST’S TOUTED FREEDOMS ARE EMPTY!” rather than saying “both the west and the east should strive to achieve greater freedom [of speech, in this case.]?

  20. Buxi
    June 1st, 2008 at 21:40 | #20

    Jane,

    I tend to agree with Andrew on this one in the general scheme of things. Instead of criticizing Newble & NBA, perhaps you should’ve outlined why you disagree with the Darfur activists. They have the right to present their argument and you have the right to counter their argument. It bothers me that you are somewhat implying that they shouldn’t speak their mind period.

    You don’t have to tell them that this type of activity may end up hurting the NBA and hence Newble shouldn’t politicize the NBA. It’s much better if Newble et al. learn it on their own (i.e. through Chinese people presenting their counter argument, and if he does anything on court in Beijing, the spectators can voice their approval or disapproval). It’s always bad if you shut people up without convincing them that their argument is not correct or at least make them question their position.

    I’ve made my logical arguments on Darfur and China before. Please see here:
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/?p=18

    I call Darfur a “divisive” issue because that’s precisely what it is. Different informed people have very different opinions on the right solution for Sudan. I have no illusions that I will convince Mia Farrow or anyone from Dream for Darfur that what Sudan needs most is stability and economic development, although that’s what I fervently believe.

    I’m ready to engage in a discussion on Darfur or anything else related to China. But as you recognized, that’s not the point of this message. If these players engage in political activism as an extension of their basketball careers, then they deserve political as an extension of their basketball careers. Ira Newble doesn’t really have much to lose, but Lebron James, the Olympics, and the NBA all have much to lose from politicizing sports…

    … and I think that would be a tremendous shame.

  21. Buxi
    June 1st, 2008 at 21:47 | #21

    In that case, don’t you think it’s counterproductive to say “LOOK THE WEST’S TOUTED FREEDOMS ARE EMPTY!” rather than saying “both the west and the east should strive to achieve greater freedom [of speech, in this case.]?

    My point wasn’t to rub the West’s touted freedoms nose in the Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf affair. I see it as a natural extension of life; I can understand perfectly why the NBA didn’t want to see the National Anthem used as a political platform. Frankly, politics are already too intertwined into our every day lives, and I’m disgusted when people take one of our few non-political refuges and choose to politicize it.

    I have no problem with Ira Newble asking a question at the presidential debates. As I said above, that’s his right as an American citizen, and that’s the type of “freedom of speech” which should be defended as you said.

    But if Ira Newble uses his professional career to endorse political issues… his employers have every right to be concerned about that. His teammates have been pressured into signing onto a joint statement on Darfur; should the “Players of the Cleveland Cavaliers” also issue an endorsement in the presidential campaign? Make a statement on the gay marriage amendment?

  22. Nimrod
    June 1st, 2008 at 22:18 | #22

    S.K. Cheung:

    I don’t think the point of this post is anything like the one(s) on Sharon Stone. It would be, if the complaint then was about mixing movie-making and politics, which it wasn’t. Or it would be, if this was a complaint about how idiotic Newble is, which this isn’t. Admittedly, I mention Newble’s bad call in passing, but I have no intention to get in the details of that.

    And mixing politics with other stuff, there is no solid “line” to draw, but come on, everybody uses common sense to draw boundaries on one’s “free speech” and it’s fine to have a back-and-forth like we do here about that. Free speech is a legal principle, not some dictum. It’s always a ridiculous sight when somebody trots out “free speech” in all seriousness in a social or diplomatic setting.

    Jane:

    It is not the job of a sports consumer to convince the basketball player of some political point, because it is a ridiculous proposition. We have politicians and discussion sites like this for that. That’s the whole point of the letter, which you missed.

  23. JL
    June 1st, 2008 at 22:45 | #23

    Buxi:
    Do you think your argument leads to the conclusion that famous people can’t publicly voice political opinions in the same way that ordinary people can? -i.e. because it would be bringing politics into whatever field made them famous? If so, it seems somewhat undemocratic to me.
    Since when was your enjoyment of basketball conditional on agreeing with political statements made by those involved with the game? My enjoyment of the Olympics sure won’t be conditional on me agreeing with the political statements made by the Beijing Olympics Committee, who are political appointees with political careers. Just as Sebastian Coe -chairman of the London Olympics Committee is a member of the British Tory party -and I definitely don’t agree with political statements he’s made.

  24. Nimrod
    June 1st, 2008 at 23:03 | #24

    JL, but nobody asked you to support Beijing’s policies by attending the Olympics. There is no such terms on the ticket, now is there? So why should LeBron James, other teammates of Newble, the NBA, Team USA, or the Olympic Games be put on the spot to voice their or their organziation’s political views on the subject?

    The inappropriateness of this is true for any workplace or business; the fact that NBA players are in the public just makes us aware of it, that’s all.

    And while I don’t want to speak for Buxi, I myself would absolutely be annoyed if in the midst of my entertainment (such as the Olympics), I’m spoonfed some really tangential propaganda. It’d be like, during the Olympics opening ceremony, the announcer starts to call out George Bush and condemn the Iraq War, when Team USA steps on the field. I know, because that sort of thing has happened against China, with Bob Costas the announcer in Atlanta 96.

  25. Jane
    June 2nd, 2008 at 00:54 | #25

    The NBA is a for profit organization. Money speaks louder than anything else. If the NBA deems the players’ actions to be adverse to its financial interest, it’ll do something. That’s what I meant by voting with your wallet. That’s precisely the reason why Dior is taking Sharon Stone off of its China advertising campaign.

    I am sure some athletes will make an issue out of Darfur etc. at the Olympics. I feel the best way for the Chinese to handle it is to just relax and take it as it is (individual athletes’ personal opinion) and not make a huge fuss out of it.

    I feel we are devoting too much energy and words to these tangential characters. I know the purpose of this site is to present the Chinese point of view. That’s great. It’s nice to provide non-Chinese with proper context and background on China related issues. However, sometimes I feel we are too busy defending China against every single accusation and forget the real issue: how do we make China a better place. While the country is moving in the right direction, it still has serious economic, social, political problems. I personally would hope that that’s the core theme of this blog.

  26. Bob
    June 2nd, 2008 at 02:15 | #26

    The Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf case clearly demonstrates that freedom of speech is a farce in the “free world,” where, among others, politics, ideology, and varying degrees of religion and secularism determine what can and cannot be said.

    If NBA is at no fault to censor its players, China should be given the same, if not more, benefit of the doubt for its discretionary control in TV programming policy.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  27. DJ
    June 2nd, 2008 at 03:35 | #27

    I have stayed silent on this topic because I am simply puzzled by the sequence of events in this case. Tim Johnson had a good line in his China Rises blog:

    Indeed, the attitude of [Chinese sports officials] on the NBA seems to be: “You know what you did. Don’t make me have to explain it to you.”

  28. Buxi
    June 2nd, 2008 at 17:15 | #28

    I feel we are devoting too much energy and words to these tangential characters. I know the purpose of this site is to present the Chinese point of view. That’s great. It’s nice to provide non-Chinese with proper context and background on China related issues. However, sometimes I feel we are too busy defending China against every single accusation and forget the real issue: how do we make China a better place. While the country is moving in the right direction, it still has serious economic, social, political problems. I personally would hope that that’s the core theme of this blog.

    Jane,

    Very good comment. We’re still trying to determine what our “core theme” should be, and what our roles are.

    On the one hand, as Chinese, exactly as you said our primary objective should be figuring out whether the country is moving in the right direction, and specifically discussing the problems that affect us.

    That type of discussion has popped up here already, and it will continue to:
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/?tag=corruption
    http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/?tag=reform

    But the primary motivation for why we started this English language blog is our interest in balancing out Western discussions on China. More than ever, the last 3 months convinced me personally that the gap in knowledge and mutual understanding was immense, and growing. And that’s what motivates me to write.

    That applies to this open letter. Most in the West intuitively and instinctively can understand why the NBA might silence Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. On the other hand, the prospect of athletes being “silenced” at the Beijing Olympics immediately screams of censorship, political suppression. I’m trying to bridge that gap by explaining in terms Americans can understand why politicizing sports (or any other arena where politics doesn’t belong) is a bad idea.

    But certainly, going forward, it’s those who comment (and who make submissions) who will ultimately determine the “direction” in which this blog goes.

  29. Opersai
    June 2nd, 2008 at 18:39 | #29

    Nimrod:

    As anybody who has worked knows, talking about politics is one of the biggest no-no’s of the workplace.

    This is not all true! An exception exist here: for politicians, politic is what they do for work! =p

  30. Anon
    June 3rd, 2008 at 01:16 | #30

    Most in the West intuitively and instinctively can understand why the NBA might silence Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. On the other hand, the prospect of athletes being “silenced” at the Beijing Olympics immediately screams of censorship, political suppression.

    Exactly what countries in the West are you talking about? Or are you talking just one Western country, the US? You better spell that out, because there are a lot of people in the “West” that find the idea of forcing people to sing the national anthem distasteful – and many of those people are Americans. And why do you misrepresent the suspension of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, which only lasted for one game?

  31. Nimrod
    June 3rd, 2008 at 03:38 | #31

    I read that Abdul-Rauf came to an understanding with his team whereby he could close his eyes during the Natinoal Anthem, lol…

    Anon, nobody said you’d have to agree with the practice, just that you’d understand it, that is to say, you can explain it to somebody else if asked. If that much can be achieved with things having to do with China, it’d be a big improvement.

  32. Buxi
    June 3rd, 2008 at 03:59 | #32

    Anon,

    My version is simple: he wanted to protest the United States’ government by not standing for the US national anthem, and he was therefore suspended. His suspension was reversed once they found a solution where his political protest wouldn’t be obvious to all of the paying customers.

    If I misrepresented the suspension of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, perhaps you could do a better job of explaining what happened. Let me give you another name you can also look up: Carlos Delgado.

    As far as the Western country… you’re right, I’ve only shown an example with the US so far. I’m not familiar with the situation in other Western countries. You can educate me by referencing successful political protests in the English Premier League, or a Canadian NHL franchise. Anything about their country’s involvement in Iraq, for example?

  33. S.K. Cheung
    June 3rd, 2008 at 08:27 | #33

    To Buxi:
    1. Canada isn’t in Iraq.
    2. Canadians love to sing our anthem loud at hockey games.
    3. Canadian Olympians have no gag orders for the Games. So if they’re asked about a topic about which they have an opinion, they’re free to answer as they please. Therefore, the best way to not politicize their non-athletic opinions is to not ask about them, or to not worry too much about them if they’re volunteered without solicitation.

  34. June 3rd, 2008 at 20:19 | #34

    I know Liverpool football club launched a campaign supporting the dockers strike back in the nineties – they wore under shirts saying “We’re backing the dockers” and flashed them at the cameras – but they got into no trouble for them. Politics and sport nearly never mix here in the UK, sportsmen pretty much stay away from making political statements. The only instance I can think of a sports personality getting into trouble for expressing an opinion was when Glen Hoddle got fired from his position as England manager for saying that disabled people were “cripples being punished for sins in a former life”.

    The British Olympic commitee have asked their atheletes to sign an agreement saying that they would not make controversial political statements was supposedly backed up by the Olympic charter – but in that case you have to wonder why the signed agreement was necessary in the first place.

    Anyway – do you also think the decision to drop France as a destination for holiday makers is not related to politics??

  35. Nimrod
    June 3rd, 2008 at 20:36 | #35

    FORAP, what exactly is this France being dropped? What are the details?

  36. DJ
    June 3rd, 2008 at 20:48 | #36

    Nimrod,

    There are some recent reports of travel agencies in China (or just Beijing?) being told to drop France from their tour offerings. The discussion on this topic seems to focus on the (seemingly much delayed) timing.

  37. lee
    June 7th, 2008 at 23:11 | #37

    “I love this game, but I do not love the politics that divide man. Please don’t mix these two items together.”
    O yeah, So I suppose the Beijing Olympic is purely about sports and no politics what’s so ever. Wake up, unless you live in an undiscovered, isolated tribe in Amazon, everything around you is political.

  38. June 8th, 2008 at 10:22 | #38
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