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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski emails ‘F—k you’ to Missouri Sen. Hawley over NBA stances in U.S., China

Josh Hawley in August 2018. (Natureofthought/Wikimedia Commons)

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski found himself in the middle of a story Friday after he dropped the F-bomb in an email to a Missouri senator who criticized the NBA’s stance on social issues in the United States and the league’s relationship with China. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., questioned the NBA’s decision to allow “pre-approved, social justice slogans” on players’ jerseys while “censoring support” for law enforcement and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, drawing a sharp response from Wojnarowski.

“F— you,” Wojnarowski wrote.

The dust-up began when Hawley’s office issued a news release detailing a letter the senator planned to send to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. In the letter, Hawley wrote the NBA’s “free expression appears to stop at the edge of your corporate sponsors’ sensibilities.”

Hawley tweeted a screenshot of an email Wojnarowski sent to his press office.

Wojnarowski later issued a statement apologizing for his response.

“I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake,” Wojnarowski said. “I’m sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly. I also need to apologize to my ESPN colleagues because I know my actions were unacceptable and should not reflect on any of them.”

ESPN also issued a statement condemning Wojnarowski’s response.

“This is completely unacceptable behavior and we do not condone it,” ESPN said. “It is inexcusable for anyone working for ESPN to respond in the way Adrian did to Senator Hawley. We are addressing it directly with Adrian and specifics of those conversations will remain internal.”

Hawley retweeted that statement from an ESPN public relations Twitter account, remarking: “Don’t make (Wojnarowski) apologize. He’s just saying what he really thinks. Call out the NBA. You know, your job.”

Hawley later told Outkick’s Jason Whitlock he wasn’t interested in an apology from ESPN.

“No, I don’t want an apology,” Hawley said. “I want ESPN to ask the NBA why they won’t let players stand up for America and be able to criticize China’s actions. But maybe ESPN won’t say anything because they benefit from the NBA’s global presence. Until ESPN speaks out, all they are really doing is enabling the Chinese Communist Party to stifle free speech in America.”

The NBA recently approved a list of social justice slogans players can display on their jerseys when play resumes July 30 at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. According to The Undefeated, the list includes: “Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Si Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.”

In his letter to Silver, Hawley asked the commissioner to answer five questions:

1. Is the NBA prepared to allow its players to wear phrases in support of the United States, the American military, and U.S. law enforcement personnel, such as “God Bless America,” “Support Our Troops,” or “Back the Blue”? Will it censor players wearing such messages on their jerseys?

2. Are public reports correct that the list of phrases approved for display on NBA players’ jerseys does not include messages in support of victims of the Chinese Communist Party?

3. If a player chooses to display a message of support for victims of the Chinese Community Party on their jersey, will the NBA allow the player to wear their jersey or will it censor that player in order to avoid drawing Beijing’s ire?

4. How does the NBA plan to defend NBA players and employees against retaliation by the Chinese Communist Party if they choose to speak out against the Party’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, or elsewhere?

5. Is the NBA prepared to publicly condemn any attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to silence or punish these individuals?

The NBA’s multibillion-dollar relationship with China has been strained since Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted “Fight for freedom stand with Honk Kong” in October. China immediately cracked down on the NBA and stopped broadcasting games, costing the league hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Hawley accused the NBA of “kowtowing” to China and “refusing to support” U.S. military and law enforcement.

“The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor — much like the censorship decisions of the CCP — are themselves statements about your association’s values,” Hawley wrote. ”If I am right — if the NBA is more committed to promoting the CCP’s interests than to celebrating its home nation — your fans deserve to know that is your view.

“If not, prove me wrong. Let your players stand up for the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they so choose. Give them the choice to write ‘Back the Blue’ on their jerseys. Or ‘Support our Troops.’ Maybe ‘God Bless America.’ What could be more American than that?

“With your new policy, you have crossed the line of sanctioning specific political messages. There is no avoiding the work of clarifying the association’s values now. This is a time for you to make clear what your league believes about human rights and about the nation that is your home.”


© 2020 The Sacramento Bee