Pundits like Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Will Cain are at the forefront of the “culture wars” on the right. Each has built a career stirring the pot and “owning the Libs.’’They, just like their liberal counterparts, focus on hot-button social issues instead of issues plaguing all Americans’ daily lives. Issues such as the continuation of our country acting as a military-industrial complex abroad and at home, the current 1.1 trillion in debt to China which was started by Ronald Reagan and continued by every president since, and Patriot Act legislation eroding our privacy. These have all been supported by presidents, congress, and senate on both sides. But, pronouns, Critical Race Theory, Antifa, and BLM are the real issues at hand, not the erosion of the middle class, depletion of jobs, or the widening income gap. Instead, ominous-sounding acronyms are their favorite brand of fear-mongering, especially when it comes to conservative media bashing outspoken athletes, more specifically NBA athletes.
We all remember when Inghram famously suggested LeBron James should “shut up and dribble,” after the superstar spoke out on politics and then-President Trump in 2018. Inghram called James’ comments “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical.” And went so far as to say she had no interest in hearing political commentary from “someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.”
I guess she would prefer to hear from someone who gets paid $2.6 million a year to bounce a ball? Late last year, Celtics backup center Enes Kanter Freedom made the rounds on conservative news shows, speaking out about human rights violations by China towards Uyghur Muslims, the repression of Tibetans, and those protesting for democracy in China. Freedom, who recently changed his name to one of the conservatives’ favorite buzz words, is Muslim and was born in Turkey. He knows what he’s talking about and is taking the side of justice in this debate. He has valid concerns and criticisms of LeBron James and others who have stood by silent while serious human rights atrocities are committed against minority Muslim groups on Chinese soil. Good on him for speaking up.
The issue isn’t Freedom’s message. It’s the hypocrisy of the right-wing media to champion a two-bit bench player as an athlete worth listening to. Freedom isn’t close to the level of superstar James is. Enes Kanter Freedom was drafted as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Since then, he has played for five different NBA teams and is currently in his second stint with the Boston Celtics as a backup. He currently averages 3.7 ppg in 12.3 minutes per game. He has an old-school game, a throwback to the back-to-the-basket post player of the 1990s. Yet, when it comes to Freedom’s message on Uyghur Muslims, conservative pundits are all too welcoming to champion his message.
But lately, he has become a vocal critic of China, Nike, and the NBA players who are silent on the company’s alleged ties to forced labor in China. And conservative media has abruptly changed its stance on professional ball dribbles doing anything but dribbling balls. He’s been a guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Will Cain Podcast, two bastions of far-right commentary. When talking to Carlson, Freedom said:
“People should feel really blessed and lucky to be in America. They love to criticize it, but when you live in a country like Turkey or China or somewhere else, you will appreciate the freedoms you have here. I feel like they should just keep their mouth shut and stop criticizing the greatest nation in the world, and they should focus on their freedoms and their human rights and democracy.”
Those comments felt eerily akin to Inghram telling athletes, just like Freedom, to shut up when it comes to criticizing America’s racist past. Oh, the irony. On the “The Rematch” podcast with former NBA player Etan Thomas, who was speaking out on social issues long before it was trendy, Kanter walked back the comment:
“I stand for freedom. I would never tell an athlete or a human being or a celebrity to not use their platform,” he said. “The greatest thing we have is freedom of speech, and the amazing thing we have is the platform.”
It’s proven the right doesn’t care if NBA players speak out on political and social issues, just when they align with their ideology.
Case in point, Kyrie Irving. Fox News jumped at the chance to support Irving’s anti-vaxx stance earlier this season. It’s ironic, seeing how many conservatives promised to boycott watching the NBA all-together when the NBA promoted social justice messages on jerseys and BLM emblems on basketball courts. Staring at messages they disagreed with, when they were just trying to watch a game, seemed to send to expose their fragile sensitivities. But now, conservatives are backing a player they recently admonished for his race-related viewpoints, as a soundboard for their ideologies. They went from this, to this? Conservatives even teamed up with BLM activists to form a raucous rally outside Barclay’s Center supporting Irving’s stance.
Irving has described his stance on the Covid-19 vaccine as, “This has everything to do with what’s going on in our world … you gotta put your livelihood on the line for a mandate that you don’t necessarily agree with. Nobody should be forced to do anything with their bodies,” he said.”
When the NBA decided to restart the season inside Orlando’s bubble, Irving was one of the most vocal opponents of the restart. He was one of the strongest advocates for legitimate changes towards social equity. In short, he was one of the most diametrically opposed to how conservatives felt about the state of American race relations after the killing of George Flloyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It goes both ways. The mainstream media has championed liberal causes like BLM within the NBA — most notably when Irving was at the forefront of them. They have gone out of their way to cash in on showing their support for DEI initiatives within the league and given platforms to players who were championing racial justice issues. But unfortunately, they’ve also been silent on China’s human rights violations and refused to criticize the NBA and the players, most notably James, on their silence. Outlets like CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, and Washington Post have disparaged and criticized Irving’s anti-vaccine stance.
There’s hypocrisy on both sides. The difference is the left has stayed silent while the right has been loud and vocal with their hypocrisy. It would benefit both sides to see just how bipartisan hypocrisy can be.