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Nike, the NBA, and star player LeBron James have remained silent on China’s increasing hostility toward the LGBTQ community, most recently when one of the country’s most prestigious universities cracked down on students displaying LGBTQ flags.
Fox News reached out to Nike, the NBA and Upland Workshop – an advisory company founded and led by James’ spokesman and advisor Adam Mendelsohn – for comment on the crackdown but did not receive a response.
The silence comes after two students at China’s Tsinghua University were reprimanded for distributing LGBTQ rainbow flags, according to a report in Bloomberg. The students were given official warnings and were prohibited from receiving scholarships and awards for six months, with the school warning that further violations could result in the students facing more serious penalties such as losing eligibility for civil service and state-owned-enterprise jobs.
News of the punishment for the students went viral on Chinese social media, but the posts were quickly deleted on China’s tightly-controlled internet. The incident was just the latest in China’s apparent crackdown on the gay community in the country, with Chinese President Xi Jinping pushing for a more conservative approach to gender and sexual identity.
Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
“This incident is the latest example of university authorities increasingly constraining space for LGBT advocacy and expression – even when it is mild and lowkey,” Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, told Bloomberg.
James and the NBA have been vocal on a host of political and social issues in recent years, but have mostly turned a blind eye to Communist China’s behavior on gender, sexual identity, and human rights abuses. Critics have largely panned the NBA and Nike in recent years over their ties to China, with the country representing a large new market audience for the professional basketball league and source of cheap labor for the shoe giant.
Former Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who currently works as the president of basketball operations of the Philadelphia 76ers, sparked controversy in 2019 when he took to Twitter to defend protesters in Hong Kong, encouraging followers to “fight for freedom” and “stand with Hong Kong” during China’s crackdown in the independent administrative region.
The tweet, which was quickly deleted, created backlash in China and caused the NBA to lose valuable sponsorship dollars, even drawing a rebuke from James at the time.
“We all talk about this freedom of speech, yes, we all do have freedom of speech. But at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself,” James said at the time. “I don’t want to get into a word or sentence feud with… with Daryl Morey. But I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke.”
Michael Lee is a writer at Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee