Unfortunately, amidst a whirlwind of emotions and sleepless nights after the citizenship ceremony, I made a comment on Fox News that was misinterpreted for thwarting criticism of our government. I will never underestimate this sacred right to hold the powerful to account. The freedom to protest is exactly what makes this country great. But I also understand that this country was built on slavery and racial injustice – a legacy that continues today. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I was among the first in the NBA to march and speak in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are fighting for systemic change that is overdue.
In the United States, we at least have the capacity to engage in such a protest to move our country forward. I come from a country, Turkey, where the authorities tried to kidnap me, forced my family to disown me in public, tortured my parents in custody, eventually canceled my passport, and stripped me of my home and identity – all for speaking out about human rights. rights. Expressing dissent and participating in protest is met with violent repression in authoritarian regimes around the world. In China, the regime is trying to wipe out the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, has systematically violated the basic human rights of the Tibetans, and suppressed the civil rights of the residents of Hong Kong. The Chinese regime has imprisoned its critics and forcibly hidden those who tried to shine a light on COVID-19 when it first broke out.
That’s why I use my platform to speak and present my unique perspective on the value and unlimited responsibility that comes with our many freedoms here.
But I don’t speak from the right or the left. I have lived in five cities across this beautiful country in diverse communities, from Portland, Utah, and Oklahoma to New York and Boston, to Simi Valley, California and Lexington, Kentucky. As a human rights activist, I know we need to work across divisions with all allies in the struggle for justice, regardless of political background. Like many, I worry that my deeper message tends to get lost in the culture wars and polarization of political discourse today. I want us to lift each other up, make each other better. I have great respect for LeBron James and his leadership in giving back and supporting progressive causes. But I called him to raise awareness of his silence and that of many others in the face of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its economic influence. Instead, we must stand up against the local mass atrocities of the Chinese Communist Party, including the unreasonably forced labor industry behind and promoting the shoes and clothing we wear. LeBron is named specifically because it represents both Nike, which produces and sells huge numbers of shoes in China, and the NBA, whose business in the country is worth $5 billion.
But there is a long list of celebrities, government officials and companies who would rather remain silent about China to preserve their trade deals. The Chinese Communist Party’s economic influence comes at the expense of the victims of its crimes.
As an example, I wanted to sound the alarm about Nike’s complicity in the CCP’s genocide attempt against the Uyghurs because NBA players have the potential to make a difference here. As of 2020, one of Nike’s largest shoe factories, Taekwang, is documented forcing hundreds of Uyghurs, mostly women, to produce millions of Nike shoes annually. A new report also emphasizes the high risks of forced Uyghur labor within Nike’s supply chain. To make matters worse, Nike lobbied against the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a bill intended to prevent products made with forced Uyghur labor from entering the US market. Although broad support for the bill has been weak in Congress for nearly… Two years before it was finally passed on December 8. We need to use our leverage to demand more of our support companies.
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The freedom in my family’s name is our greatest strength – something that is not guaranteed in many countries around the world. Let’s take advantage of it and work together to make this country and the world a better place. The United States has said it will not send its officials to the Beijing 2022 Olympics. We must continue to pressure sponsors to follow suit and withdraw, including Visa, Alibaba, Allianz, Coca-Cola, Dow, General Electric, Intel, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Toyota and Airbnb.
As athletes, we must push our governments, the International Olympic Committee and sports associations to move the Games and suspend all other sporting activities hosted by a regime that commits persistent and widespread human rights abuses, as the Women’s Tennis Association has already done. Do we really want to risk sending our players to a country whose citizens are disappearing and foreigners are arbitrarily imprisoned as a bargaining chip? As the late great civil rights leader, John Lewis, wrote shortly before his death: “Democracy is not a state. It is a business, and every generation must do its part to help build what we call a beloved community, a nation and a global community at peace with itself.” We must listen to his words and speak out about injustice around the world. We must embrace America’s promise.
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