The Pitfall of Making Enes Kanter a Hero for the Right

Turkish NBA player Enes Kanter wants the world to know he does not like Chinese premier Xi Jinping. The Boston Celtics center last month called Xi a “brutal dictator” for China’s treatment of Tibet. China responded by forcing its cable providers to pull broadcasts of Celtics games. Kanter did not cave. Instead, he escalated his attacks on Xi.

He showed off anti-Xi shoes that portrayed the Chinese leader as Winnie the Pooh and demanded he free the Uighurs. 

Kanter also released a video criticizing Nike’s close relationship with the Communist government. A lot of people on the Right instinctively loved all of these actions, but they should pay closer attention to his anti-Nike video. In the video, he celebrates Nike for standing with Black Lives Matter, “Stop Asian Hate,” “the Latino community,” and “the LGBTQ community.” He says this makes a positive social impact and praises Nike for fighting against “injustice” in the United States. But he complains that Nike does not stand up against injustice in China, having nothing to say about that country’s discrimination against gays and ethnic minorities.

While he makes a valid point about Nike relying on slave labor in China, understand that that Kanter clearly thinks the shoe company is insufficiently woke. He believes the corporate giant should share the same woke propaganda in China that it does in the United States. Kanter has long been a vocal supporter of BLM and other left-wing causes, so his position isn’t surprising. It should, however, dampen enthusiasm for the Turkish star on the American Right.

The American Right acts as though Kanter is the bravest activist of all time and adopt him as one of their own. National Review editor Rich Lowry proclaimed Kanter the hero “we need.” The Washington Examiner published an article lauding Kanter as the “brave athlete” LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick wish they could be.  

It is commendable that Kanter would do something that other NBA stars refuse to do and much of his criticism of the Chinese regime is spot-on. But Americans on the Right should care more about the sports leagues kowtowing to Black Lives Matter and other American movements than about Nike’s refusal to criticize Xi. Kanter doesn’t put his career at risk by being pro-Uighur. The same could not have been said had he dared criticize BLM or resisted the vax mandate. Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving may never play again over his refusal to get vaccinated. Kanter still laces up for the Celtics following his anti-Xi diatribes. The center isn’t even receiving much backlash from the media, unlike the NBA players who refuse the COVID vaccine.

While it would be great if more celebrities and athletes followed Kanter’s example vis à vis China, it would be even better if public figures stood up to the outrages here at home. Many on the Right think it’s the height of courage to tweet #FreeHongKong or to share a picture of Xi as Winnie the Pooh. That would be the case if they were in Chinese territory, but it comes with no risk in America. It’s just grandstanding. 

Kanter’s criticisms of China are perfectly in line with the national security state. The Biden Administration claims China’s oppression of its ethnic minorities amounts to a “genocide” and pressures American companies to stop working with Chinese entities involved in this oppression. Biden himself subtly attacked China at the United Nations last month. This isn’t quite the elephant in the room, and speaking these truths comes with almost no risk. 

The Right shouldn’t fall for these gestures, insisting that they’re the pinnacle of bravery. Too often, the Right seems to care more about the NBA’s deference to China than its slavish devotion to wokeness here at home. Kanter’s ultimate argument is that he wants the NBA to push the same poisonous ideology to the Chinese that it imposed on American fans last year. That really isn’t defending traditional American ideas. We don’t really want George Floyd statues in Beijing or Drag Queen Story Hour in Wuhan. We just want to curtail China’s power and influence.

The more pressing matter is the NBA and other sports leagues becoming propaganda vehicles for Black Lives Matter. That has a greater consequence for ordinary Americans than NBA players failing to talk about the Uighurs. Only one player last year refused to take a knee for BLM. That was Jonathan Isaac, who is now one of the most persuasive critics of vaccine mandates. Many conservatives like him and his positions, but they seem to be forgetting about him in favor of Kanter. It’s not really a competition, but the reality is that Isaac really was the one player with the courage not to turn himself into a walking billboard for BLM. That defiance is more of what we need than Xi the Pooh shoes.

It is worthy of praise that an NBA player would attack the Chinese Communists in forceful language, but we should be real here. We should want professional sports to cut out the wokeness here at home more than we want pro athletes to stand with the Uighurs. That should be simple, but it seems more unlikely to happen than ever before. 

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