The NBA has decided that when games resume at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla., later this month, it will allow players to promote social justice during the game—sort of.
Under an agreement between the players’ union and the league, social messages from an approved list can appear on jerseys in place of players’ names.
ESPN on Friday gained access to a list of the approved slogans: Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names, Vote, I Can’t Breathe, Justice, Peace, Equality, Freedom, Enough, Power to the People, Justice Now, Say Her Name, Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can), Liberation, See Us, Hear Us, Respect Us, Love Us, Listen, Listen to Us, Stand Up, Ally, Anti-Racist, I Am a Man, Speak Up, How Many More, Group Economics, Education Reform, and Mentor.
The list doesn’t contain any references to Hong Kong, the focus of a protest movement within the NBA last year. In October 2019, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey set off a firestorm when he offered support for pro-democracy protesters in the territory controlled by the Chinese government by tweeting: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” The league’s Chinese sponsors cut ties, and Chinese state-run TV stopped airing games. China accounted for at least 10 percent of the NBA’s revenue, CNN reported. League Commissioner Adam Silver and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James attempted to distance the league from Morey’s comment, and Morey deleted the tweet and apologized.
Historically, the NBA has avoided controversy. In 2014, Silver complained about players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during pregame warmups to protest the death of Eric Garner in New York City when a police officer placed him in a chokehold during an arrest. The league still requires players to stand for the national anthem, though that might change soon.
Last week in Hong Kong, however, the Chinese government enacted stricter laws against pro-democracy protesters, furthering brutality and oppression against those who criticize communism and promote freedom. But the NBA and other major corporations continue to play it safe, unwilling to risk profits in China. —Collin Garbarino