New York Times Treats NBA Anti-China Activist With Suspicion: He’s No Kaepernick!

April 8th, 2022 9:31 AM

Former NBA center Enes Kanter Freedom didn’t get the worshipful, Colin Kaepernick treatment in Thursday’s long New York Times profile by Sopan Deb, “Now Engaged in a Full-Court Press for Activism.” But the flattering headline is belied by the hostile 2,500-word profile that followed.

Not even Freedom’s Muslim faith saved him from criticism, especially when compared to how the Times fawned over the anti-American moves of former San Francisco 49er quarterback Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, purportedly to protest the police killings of blacks. Kaepernick has said: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

Deb damned his subject with faint praise, calling Freedom “a serviceable N.B.A. center.”

It has also made him a political weapon that right-wing politicians and pundits have used to bludgeon the N.B.A. and its biggest star, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, a frequent conservative target whom Freedom has singled out for criticism.

Freedom told Deb he was released for speaking out. Deb didn’t buy it.

The perception -- whether true or not -- that Freedom is being punished for his political beliefs has become pervasive among his allies.

After discovering the plight of the Uyghurs, Chinese Muslims persecuted by the government, Freedom posted a video on Twitter calling China’s leader Xi Jinping a “brutal dictator,” and wore shoes on the court that said “Free Tibet.”

Seb again hinted he won't take Freedom's claims at face value.

Freedom’s story is difficult to corroborate because he would not disclose the names of his antagonists….

Deb was bothered that Freedom makes arguments that please conservatives.

Freedom has criticized some iconic players, including Michael Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, and James, the Lakers star, for their business with Nike, which has deep ties to China….

Freedom has accused James of choosing “money over morals” by associating with Nike, and he wore custom shoes that mocked James -- much to the delight of prominent Republicans who have attacked James, who is Black, for his social justice advocacy. A spokesman for James declined to comment, and a representative for Jordan did not respond to an inquiry.

As Freedom’s new identity and activism have raised his profile, he has drawn a backlash for his choice of targets and allies.

Deb meant conservatives.

In late November, Freedom appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, the conservative host who has frequently denigrated immigrants and social justice activists….

Carlson’s conservative, but former ESPN personality Jemele Hill is somehow not liberal?

The Carlson appearance, combined with Freedom’s attacks on James and Jordan, who is also Black, brought a sharp response from, among others, the journalist Jemele Hill.

Then Deb rose to defend Kaepernick.

Sen. Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, said Freedom’s release was a “disgusting example” of the N.B.A.’s “cowardly appeasement toward Communist China.” Freedom reposted the Twitter messages of other elected Republicans who expressed similar sentiments. Others on the right have explicitly likened Freedom to Kaepernick.

The comparison is, at best, inexact. Some in the N.F.L.’s largely white fan base have described the protest of Kaepernick, who is biracial, as unpatriotic -- even though he began kneeling during the national anthem at the suggestion of a former Green Beret. Freedom’s criticisms of the Chinese government, though pointed and perhaps irritating to the league, are largely popular in the United States.

But Kaepernick’s antics were actually popular with the NFL, which devoted money and pageantry to pushing Black Lives Matter, even displaying social justice message in the end zone.

The reporter again insulted his subject’s athletic ability, noting Kaepernick had gone to the Super Bowl, while Freedom was merely “a journeyman center” who “struggles defensively….”