NBA Players need to point out that Uighur Lives Matter

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The NBA’s players deserve accolades for their decision to boycott two days’ worth of playoff games last week after a black man in Wisconsin was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer.

That boycott served as the most powerful statement made by any sports organization in reminding America (and the world) that Black Lives Matter. Within hours, multiple MLB, MLS and WNBA teams joined the boycott, which the NHL also added its name to one day later.

The boycott was the right decision and made at the right time.

Now it must be extended internationally.

These basketball players, emboldened unlike at any time in the past in calling attention to social and racial injustice, must remind the Chinese that their government’s treatment of the Uighur minority is despicable. And until it changes, the players must make clear they’ll have nothing to do with China and a popular shoe company.

VOX.com summarizes the plight of Uighurs well, noting

…in recent years, the Chinese Communist Party has arbitrarily detained between 1 million and 3 million other Uighurs in so-called “reeducation centers” and forced them to undergo psychological indoctrination programs, such as studying communist propaganda and giving thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese officials have also reportedly used waterboarding and other forms of torture, including sexual abuse, as part of the indoctrination process. 

It is the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority group since World War II.

China also is reportedly compelling Uighurs to work in factories that make Nike shoes. (The government also is reportedly requiring Uighurs to make face masks to combat coronavirus.)

Why is Nike important in this conversation? According to TheSource.com, half of the 14-richest shoe deals in the NBA are linked to that company.

The current players sporting Nikes include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Zion Williamson. The late Kobe Bryant also had a Nike deal.

This above list includes three of the NBA’s best players (Antetokounmpo, Durant and James); they have the gravitas to tell Nike to delink its products with China until there’s verified evidence the Uighurs are being treated with dignity.

The NBA has a billion-dollar relationship with China, and it’s hit turbulence in recent months. So far, the league’s front office has shown zero spine in calling attention to China’s human rights abuses. If that continues, and it appears it will, then the players must lead in demanding change.

If Black Lives Matter in the United States, then Uighur Lives Matter in China.

The players’ platform starts with consistently and publicly embarrassing Nike until that company confirms Uighurs — and anyone imprisoned in China — aren’t making any Nike shoes.

It includes breaking their shoe contracts until Nike gets its act together. (Let’s face it, if Nike takes these players to court for violating shoe deals, the company loses, no matter the verdicts.)

The platform also must call on the NBA to suspend contracts with China until human rights conditions dramatically improve.

Lastly, it includes refusing to play pre- or regular-season games in that country until China publicly acknowledges that Uighur Lives Matter.

It’s a heavy lift, and the blowback from China will be fierce. But it’s the right thing to do.

To anyone who believes it’s not fair to single out the NBA’s players, here’s the deal: The league and its players have been leaders in calling out racial injustice in the U.S. over the past 4-5 years. Their commitment to this effort has been all the more important because professional baseball, football, hockey and soccer players have said almost nothing in the same time period.

The NBA’s players are using their megaphone for the right reasons. But they can’t limit themselves to only what’s happening at home.

The time is now. They must answer the call.

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