Marsha Blackburn, the junior senator from Tennessee, declared in a video posted to her Twitter account that she had received a response from the NBA regarding the letter she wrote in June to NBA commissioner Adam Silver expressing “concern about their relationship in China and how they profit by doing business in China.”
She emphasized the word “profit” as if it were some sort of vulgarity.
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This is not a new course for the senator. She made certain that everyone was aware of the letter she sent to the NBA back in June, which stated, “The actions of the NBA and some players have created an appearance that your league prioritizes profit over principle.”
The problem seems to be that she is emphasizing appearance over principle.
The NBA has become a target for particular politicians as it commences its return from the pandemic hiatus with an expressed commitment to promoting social justice — a promise manifested in the slogan “Black Lives Matter” being stenciled on the main court that will be used for completion of the regular season and the NBA playoffs.
Blackburn and Missouri’s Josh Hawley have been among the more vocal in using the NBA’s business dealings in China in an effort to expose some sort of double standard with regarding the league and its public conscience.
Hawley complained the list of approved statements — agreed to by the league and the NBA Players Association — does not include something on the order of “Free Hong Kong,” focusing instead on domestic matters: “I Can’t Breathe”; “Say Their Names”; “Equality.”
If either of the senators wishes to complain about a double standard, though, they ought to consider their own actions relative to companies based in the states they represent that do an enormous amount of business in China.
Actually, there have been no apparent actions.
Blackburn published a 52-page white paper, available for download on her website, titled “Pandemic-Era Policymaking and the Future of United States-China Relations.” It’s not exactly light entertainment. In a video tweet discussing the paper, she said, “We have to get busy unraveling this myriad of relationships with China.”
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In scanning those 52 pages and executing a word search, I found no mention of FedEx, the No. 70 company in the Fortune 500 and based in Memphis, and therefore difficult for a senator from Tennessee to forget. In a conversation with analysts who cover the company, FedEx said in 2019 it earns $1.3 billion in revenue with its China operations.
Not that the senator should criticize this. A wide majority of U.S.-based corporations do extensive business in China. But if she is going to blast the NBA, should FedEx’s business interests escape her notice? Especially given that the company sued the Trump administration in 2019 in a dispute over trade rules mandating that FedEx inspect every package shipped from the country.
Likewise, Anheuser-Busch, a wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, is based in Hawley’s home state but does a significant amount of business in China. But there has been no perceptible public criticism from Hawley of the company nor its decision to spin off its Asia/Pacific business last year in a massive IPO.
Again, there is nothing wrong with selling Budweiser in China. It’s how world business works. What’s problematic is the senator’s selective outrage.
It was telling that although the NBA agreed to answer Sen. Blackburn’s letter, Silver passed off the responsibility to one of his subordinates. She did not seem to care for that. But it wasn’t truly worth his time, or your attention.