I am sure you have heard or read about the “international incident” that is really a kerfuffle caused by a Tweet from the GM of the Houston Rockets. Daryl Morey – in a Tweet since taken down – expressed his support for the Hong Kong protestors; the Chinese government and the people who run basketball in China took umbrage at that; there have been economic repercussions already. I will not go into the details here; you can find good reporting on the subject here.
There are two aspects of this kerfuffle that transcend the current state of conflict between the NBA and the Chinese folks who care about basketball. The first one is simple and direct:
- This is not a “free speech issue”.
Daryl Morey exercised his free expression with his Tweet. No one seeks to criminalize that action. That is what the First Amendment protects against and it is not in play here. US politicians on both ends of the political spectrum have felt it necessary to comment on all this and most of them immediately take the position that they are defenders of free speech. Good for them; now, if we could only get them to understand what it is that they are defending.
The fact is that free expression is one of the pillars of US democracy. The fact is that free expression is not protected, valued or even tolerated in some parts of the world outside the US. We can wring our hands and bemoan that second fact, but it remains a fact.
Moreover, when one exercises one’s free speech rights here in the US, that does not immunize one from all consequences. If a journalist makes up “facts” and synthesizes quotations from imaginary sources to enhance reporting, you could argue that the journalist is exercising his free expression. And he/she is doing just that; he/she will not be prosecuted for doing so, but he/she is almost assuredly going to be fired by his/her employer for doing so. If that is too abstract for you, just think about Colin Kaepernick.
The second aspect of this kerfuffle that I find interesting is the PR dance that the NBA must now perform. The NBA has portrayed itself as ever so politically correct and inclusive. Here are several examples:
- They do not refer to team owners as “owners” because that may have a bad connotation for the African American players in the league. Owners are now referred to as “governors” – – as if that makes any difference and might not be offensive to anyone anywhere.
- They express pride that the players in the NBA have certain powers of control over their careers that players in other sports do not – – as they wink in the direction of the NFL.
- They threatened to take their All-Star game out of North Carolina when the state legislature enacted a gender-specific bathroom law that was not in line with NBA thinking. [Aside: That is exactly what the Chinese are doing now.]
- They openly supported Colin Kaepernick in his confrontation with the NFL.
Now, the NBA finds itself at odds with its “Chinese partners” who have already begun to withhold some economic benefits from the Rockets specifically and the NBA more generally. They will have to navigate a way through a minefield here without looking too much like hypocrites while they try to repair the damages done to one of their revenue streams and to their access to the Chinese basketball market.
Personally, I think the situation the NBA finds itself in today is an inevitable consequence of the NBA’s decision to try to exploit the Chinese marketplace once it was clear that Yao Ming had established a natural way for the NBA to try to access the emerging middle class in a country with 1.4 billion people. The political, economic and social systems of China and the US are not the same and I believe that it is impossible to do billions of dollars’ worth of business with China and not encounter situations where the two systems butt heads. The sane way to approach such “head butting incidents” is to keep them low-key and one of the best ways to keep them low-key is to avoid screaming “Free Speech” at the onset of the confrontation.
Switching gears… The Skins fired Jay Gruden at 5:00 AM yesterday. Already you can find articles speculating on his replacement; talk about jumping the gun. If I had any insight as to who may or may not be on the Skins’ radar, I would have to be a mind reader; I am not a mind reader AND I can assure you that if I could read minds I would not choose Danny Boy Snyder and/or Bruce Allen as the minds I would want to read. So, let me offer some facts and opinions here for you to keep in mind as you encounter the speculations that have begun and will continue to emerge:
- Danny Boy Snyder has owned the team since 1999. Counting interim coaches, Bill Callahan – the incumbent as of yesterday – is the 10th head coach since Danny Boy took the helm.
- Over that period, he has had two “confidants” – or “Enablers-in-chief” – in the Skins’ organization. He and they have made the coaching decisions over the past two decades.
- None of the previous coaches – one of which is in the Hall of Fame and another of which has won 2 Super Bowls – left Washington with a winning record.
- The same folks will be doing the interviewing and hiring this time. Why should anyone expect anything different to happen?
Danny Boy Snyder has already tried just about every formulaic approach to finding the next great coach who will take the Skins to the pinnacle of the NFL.
- He inherited a highly successful coordinator – Norv Turner.
- After he fired Turner because he would not play Jeff George at QB, he hired the highly successful NFL coach who had won more than 60% of his games – Marty Schottenheimer.
- After he fired Schottenheimer the next year when the team went 8-8, he hired the college coaching whiz who was going to revolutionize the NFL – Steve Spurrier.
- After Spurrier called in his resignation from a golf course, Danny Boy Snyder hired the franchise legend to come back and right the ship – Joe Gibbs.
- After Gibbs left the post, he hired the guy who was willing to take the job – Jim Zorn.
- When he fired Zorn (who was in no way ready for a head coaching position in the first place) he hired the former Super Bowl winning coach who had taken a year’s sabbatical – Mike Shanahan.
- When he fired Shanahan, he hired the young, up-and-coming NFL coordinator who was the hot commodity of the season – Jay Gruden.
Danny Boy Snyder and Bruce Allen have pushed all the buttons and it has not worked yet. In addition, there is some strong evidence that they would not recognize nascent coaching expertise if it were present and bit them on their collective noses. Three NFL wunderkind coaches in 2019 are Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVey and Matt LaFleur. All three of them have been on the Skins’ coaching staff under the watchful eyes of Danny Boy Snyder and Bruce Allen. All three are elsewhere as head coaches; all three are probably happy to be anywhere but the head coach of the Skins.
Finally, since I mentioned the NBA’s attempts to be ever so politically correct above, consider this item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:
“The International Association of Athletics Federations is ditching the term ‘fastest loser’ — to describe track athletes who don’t win heat races but advance anyway — because the phrase devalues athletes’ achievements and will replace it with ‘fastest nonautomatic qualifier.’
“Hey, it was either that or … participation trophies for everybody!”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………