enes Kanter Freedom had an interesting basketball career. He was banned from playing college basketball at the University of Kentucky because he got benefits from his time playing professional basketball in Turkey as a teenager. Since being drafted as the #3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, he has played for five different NBA teams and is currently in his second stint with the Boston Celtics.
But it’s off the field where Freedom has attracted the most attention. He has spoken out about human rights abuses in both China and Turkey, where he grew up. His criticism of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, led to reprisals against his family and the cancellation of Freedom’s Turkish passport. Recently, LeBron has targeted James for his sponsorship deal with Nike and the company’s alleged ties to forced labor in China. Then last month, he became a US citizen and legally changed his name from Enes Kanter to Enes Kanter Freedom.
Liberty’s political activism over the years has gone mostly unnoticed in most of America. If there was a reaction, it was generally in favor across the political spectrum. The right welcomed his attacks on one of their opponents, communist China, while the liberals expressed their admiration for his fight against Erdogan, a leader in the mold of Trump.
That all changed when Freedom appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. He seemed to attack players like LeBron and Colin Kaepernick and the entire new generation of sports activists who have spoken out about human rights abuses in the US: state-sanctioned violence including the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Terrence Croucher, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Sean Montrosa, Willie McCoy, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many more. Kanter told Carlson, who couldn’t hide his excitement that Freedom had taken the bait.
The reaction was quick. In The Atlantic, Gemmell Hill writes that “the implication of Carlson’s question was clear: Most NBA players are black, and Carlson frequently portrays people of color who seek political and social change as ungrateful and unpatriotic.” In The Nation, Dave Zirin said Carlson “seemed like a rosy-cheeked, spoiled kid under a Christmas tree. For him, after Enes attacked tough blacks he must feel like getting the gift that tops his list for Santa.”
I understand the points made by Hale and Zerin, and I agree with much of what they have to say. And despite knowing Maya Angelou’s quote “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time,” I didn’t think meeting Carlson was an indication of what Freedom really feels like.
Many on the left began altruistically undermining Freedom’s endeavors or mocking his playing career (a tactic from the right’s playbook when they disagree with an athlete). So I reached out to him to give him a chance to clarify or double down on what he said to Carlson.
We started by talking about his statement on Carlson’s show that gamers should value the freedoms they enjoy in America compared to countries like China and Turkey and “stop criticizing the greatest country in the world.” Was he effectively using a familiar trope from the right: that players like LeBron should shut up and pass the ball?
“What I meant was, where do you come from, Turkey is a brutal dictatorship,” Freedom told me. “We don’t have freedom of speech, religion or expression. We don’t have democracy. Turkey could have been an offshoot of Islam in the West, but only because of all the things that are going on… It’s impossible.
“So what I meant was, people should feel fortunate and blessed to be in this situation [in America]. Obviously, there are many issues in America. I certainly do not deny that. I am aware of a lot of them and racism is definitely high on the list. But what I meant was at least, they’re not in a country like Turkey, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela or Belarus.”
But this does not mean that Freedom believes that gamers in America should remain silent about the problems in this country. “Obviously I stand for freedom and I would never tell any athlete or not just an athlete or human or celebrity not to use their platform. Because obviously the greatest thing we have is freedom of expression.
But freedom fell into Carlson’s trap. Tuckums (as MSNBC’s Joy Reid calls him) was actually smiling while Freedom seemed to endorse Carlson’s view that anyone who criticizes America is an enemy of America. During our conversation, Freedom acknowledged that his words were twisted.
He said, “I saw some opinion pieces, some interviews, some comments and many people just didn’t understand what I was trying to say.” “And I don’t judge them because someone obviously used my words… And some of the words I used could be twisted or stretched. And I have to be more careful with my words.”
I’m glad I sat down with Enes Kanter Freedom and gave him the opportunity to clarify his words. But there’s no doubt that Tucker Carlson knew exactly what he was doing and his agenda was clear: Get Enes Kanter Freedom while he’s excited to become an American citizen and coax him into lashing out at other black athletes who aren’t (in his eyes) as grateful and grateful to be in America as they should be. , and who have the audacity to criticize America and call out police brutality and white supremacy. Fox News just wants to continue with its mantra that athletes (at least those who don’t align with their agenda) should shut up and dodge it, and don’t dare criticize the good USA.
Hopefully this will be a learning experience for Freedom and he will never allow himself to be played by the likes of Fox News again. They don’t care about human rights in China or Turkey. They are just out to use him as a pawn.