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USA Basketball Mum On Darfur

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or any other member of Team USA will not use the Beijing Olympics as a platform to raise awareness to the crisis in Darfur. Back in May, James told ESPN that he would encourage his teammates to make a formal statement about how China has helped fund a genocide by supporting the Sudanese government as its primary trade partner for oil.

Here is a video from an ESPN piece on the subject that ran on Sunday:

James reiterated on Thursday that he would focus on basketball and basketball alone the next few weeks. "I don't want to bring no distractions to our team. My number one goal coming here was not to speak on political issues, it was to come win a gold medal," James said. "I said if I was asked the question then I would answer, and I'd say that basic human rights should be protected. That's how I feel. It's not going to go further than that. It's not going to go less than that."

The reason for James's change of heart is unclear. The NBA has considerable business interest in China after establishing a subsidiary of the league here last year. James and Bryant are also the two most prominent endorsers for Nike, which sponsors Team USA and also has a huge stake in the Chinese economic market.

Some have speculated that U.S. Managing Director Jerry Colangelo recently addressed the team and told them to avoid politicizing these Olympics. "That's not true -- absolutely unequivocally not," Colangelo said this week. "As a matter of fact, I did the opposite. [I told them,] 'If your heart tells you say it, say it.' We told our players, no one has a muzzle. Some of us voiced our opinions. My opinion was, we're here for the Olympics. We're here for the sport. There is a lot more we can accomplish by doing what we need to do."

U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski echoed Colangelo. "Any of our players can speak about whatever they want to speak," he said. "But I think we've all taken the approach that we're here for sport. We want to make sure that we're good ambassadors for our country and make sure that we're representing our game here in the Olympics."

Earlier this year, Bryant filmed this public service announcement:

But when asked if he planned to comment further while in China, Bryant said, "That's where we'll leave it. We're going to focus on what we've got to do. We've got enough on our plate to bring back the gold medal. So we let the people that know best about the situation handle that situation and us do what we do."

Colangelo said "there is time and place" for everything, but he personally believes that speaking out during the Olympics would be inappropriate. "We have empathy for what's happening, be it in Tibet or Darfur, and if our players are asked and their heart tells to say something, that's up to them," he said. "I know people want quotes from some of these athletes on these issues, but come Aug. 26, I don't think we'll be asking those same questions. It's kind of newsy now. I don't have an issue with that at all."

By Michael Lee  |  August 7, 2008; 2:00 PM ET
 
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Next: Lomong Describes Horrific Journey Out of Sudan

Comments

Distractions to their Olympic medals pale in comparison to the plight of the Darfur refugees. These "men" would rather bow down to the mighty dollar than actually make a difference. Basketball is certainly mroe importan1 Freakin' worthless.

Posted by: mjwies11, washington, d.c. | August 7, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I were talking about how great it would be for the entire team to have free tibet on their arms or patches, or something to represent how they felt. After some thought we agreed that this was not the best venue for basketball players to make political statements. They are there to represent our country in a peaceful fashion, and coming from a country that has made some questionable ethical moves in the last several decades, and considering other countries didn't treat us like this in the 1996 Atlanta Games, I think we should be respectful of the Olympics themselves and leave the politics out of basketball. Very proud to see how Kobe and LeBron felt initially, I think their focus is in the right place.

Posted by: Keith | August 7, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Typical - this should surprise no one.

Whenever anyone influential enough to receive media attention threatens to cross up a wealthy pig somewhere, they are gently pushed back into their seats without a peep.

Take a stand fellas and bring these disgusting circumstances to the forefront and show them what this country is all about.

Posted by: Marc | August 7, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Michael Jordan summed it up best back in the 1980s when asked why he wouldn't donate to the Democratic Party: "Republicans buy shoes, too."

It's all about the money. That is why there are no protest artists today like there were in the 1960s. Nobody is playing sports today for sports or recording music for the sheer joy or music or making a statement.

It's all about making money, and in this corporate fascist state we live in, nobody is going to rock their financial boat by speaking out about anything. That's one reason why this country doesn't give a damn about anything anymore: because its "role models" don't stand up for anything if it might upset their corporate masters or jeopardize their next contract.

Cowards.

Posted by: TruthMakerer | August 7, 2008 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Truthmakerer, I'd like to know exactly when it was American Olympic athletes were in the practice of "standing up" for political or human rights convictions. We all remember the black Power protests on the medal stand by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City in 1968, and Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett in Munich in 1972, but that's a total of four athletes. There may have been others, but I'm typing this off the top of my head -- and no one else comes to mind. (Little help, anyone?)

Whether your name is Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or any of the other professional basketball players representing the U.S., you are at the Olympics first and foremost as an athlete competing against the best opposition in the world. If you are not completely focused on basketball the result will be all too predictable: you will lose. Ditto for every other American athlete in every event. They are athletes, not diplomats or activists or ambassadors or anything else.

If they choose to speak out, that's fine. That is their prerogative. But anyone who tries to impose some moral or ethical obligation on any Olympian to stage a protest is TOTALLY out of line. This is an ATHLETIC moment that represents the culmination of years and years of self-denying discipline and preparation. Get off their backs!

Posted by: Marbs | August 7, 2008 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Practically speaking, US professional basketball players are the only athletes with enough clout to be able to take a stand against the censorship being practiced by the repressive Chinese government. It's a shame to see that these guys knuckled under to the pressure.

The Olympics have become a perversion of the ideals under which they were founded, and the IOC is a traitorous collaborator with this evil regime.

Money talks, and human rights can go take a walk...

Posted by: Steve | August 7, 2008 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Disingenuous to claim that there is a time and place for protest. If not now, then when? If not there, then where?

Posted by: Bob | August 7, 2008 9:01 PM | Report abuse

As African Americans, we are the most privileged blacks in the Diaspora and we have a responsibility to fight for our brothers and sisters on the continent. These men are selfish and only care about winning. There would be no NBA without them so irregardless of what some management guy may have allegedly said to them, they have an obligation to SPEAK UP! To whom much is given, MUCH is expected!

Posted by: Beltway Baby | August 7, 2008 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Were is our Jesse Owens.

Posted by: The Man | August 7, 2008 10:49 PM | Report abuse

A evil regime? A regime has improved life quality of millions of Chinese? Have you been to China ever?
It is true that it is regime with black spots,but you cant impose that it is a very evil one?
How about U.S.A? is it a perfect one? then why they invade into Iraq?thousands of civilians dead in the name of your justice.

Posted by: yunzhiwei | August 7, 2008 11:10 PM | Report abuse

Why do the athletes need to raise "awareness" about Darfur? Who doesn't know that it's going on? If anything is going to done about Darfur or Tibet, it will be have to be the political class to make a difference. Not athletes.

And only idiots turn to entertainers to lead them.

Posted by: Eric | August 8, 2008 7:50 AM | Report abuse

Why is it we only expect Kobe or Lebron to say something?
I don't hear anyone putting any pressure on Michael Phelps to say anything?
Or Dara Tores?
Or The Hamm brothers?
Would they not be heard if they made a stand too?
This is the olympics where USA basketball is supposed to reclaim it's dominance. Let Greenpeace, and political figures protest, let the boys play and show the world that United States is still the dominant power in basketball.

I don't need Lebron or Kobe to tell me how bad the situation is in the Sudan. The two gents with the black gloves in 68 didn't get much love for their display as brave as it was.

The biggest statements made by black athletes have been ON the field.

Jesse Owens beating the field @ the olympics in 1936.

Or how about Joe Louis beating Max Schmeling?

Doug Williams winning a superbowl..

That team from Texas beating Kentucky in the NCAA tourney.

Jackie Robinson being a Hall of Famer on the field and off it when given the chance to play in the majors.

Let them play people!!!
LET THEM PLAY!

Posted by: Malibu Bobby | August 8, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

This issue is a NO-BRAINER, folks. Plain as day. I tried to put it in its proper context in a post above (i.e., the Olympics are meant to be purely an athletic event), but some of you just don't get it.

Read my lips: The Olympic games are about athletic competition. Period, end of sentence. If the Olympics became a forum for across-the-board political protest on a regular basis, THERE WOULD BE NO MORE OLYMPIC GAMES! Duh!!! Can't you see that?

You just don't get it, do you?

And while I'm at it, let me add this fuel to the fire. Although (1) my heart bleeds over what is happening in Darfur every bit as much as yours does, and (2) my political views are left of center, it's folks on the far left -- who insist that any and every forum is the right place for activism -- who drive independents and middle-of-the-roaders away from the Democratic Party. You know ... hellooooo! ... the people we need to actually win elections. (Again ... duh!!!)

So, please don't bother labeling me a heartless, right-wing, reactionary conservative; you'd be wrong. It's just that constantly using the Olympics as a platform for protest would ultimately bring an end to this greatest of human gatherings. They would implode. There are other platforms for that kind of protest -- no matter how much you refuse to see it.

Leave your political views off of the athletes' backs. If any of them should choose to speak out, then great! Embrace his or her courage and conviction. But at all times recognize the "no-brainer" part of this situation: they are there solely to take part in ATHLETIC competition against the very best in the world.

Shame on anyone who would criticize any Olympian for preparing single-mindedly to perform at the very highest level. That is what they are there for.

Get ... off ... of ... their ... backs!!!

Posted by: Marbs, from Philadelphia | August 8, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

RE: the Man

How dare you compare the Chinese government to the Nazi party. And for those of you who talk against Chinese actions in Tibet, GO TO TIBET AND SEE FOR YOURSELF.

The purpose of the Olympics is to create a platform of competition where everyone can compete on an equal basis without the distraction of politics and money. Let's try to keep it pure in the true spirit of competition

Posted by: Chinese American | August 8, 2008 7:12 PM | Report abuse

This is stupid. Im sorry but China is not the USA there isnt the freedom of speech we have here. These people could lock up any of the stupid americans protesting at any time. This is part of the reason other countries hate us. Maybe its not right but there are other ways of protesting when you are not in there country.

Posted by: hta | August 8, 2008 7:30 PM | Report abuse

The founding ideals of the Olympics were to promote harmony/brotherhood through sport. If you are a regime (like China) which stifles free speech, manipulates the media, controls what is seen and heard, sells weapons clandestinely to murderous regimes, you are not promoting those ideals.

And yes, the US has committed "wrong" actions as well. But we still have freedom of speech and we still allow protests and activism by our citizens and the reporting of those demonstrations.

Sport is about fair play. If that ideal is limited to sports, you diminish its value.

Ultimately, of what value is a bunch of people running around on a square of wood trying to get a ball through a round string?

De nada. What is of value is the strength ,courage, discipline, teamwork, commitment, respect, integrity. If you neglect those values off the court, then on the court they are meaningless, whatever medal you may win.

These athletes, specifically these NBA players, would not be where they are today, with the salaries and contracts they command, if brave people of all races and colors had not taken a stand forty years ago on their behalf, if people over the decades and centuries had not risked their livelihoods and reputations.

Even starting with a few choice words spoken wisely and well on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves - this would be a platform these Olympic athletes could stand on proudly, a platform where everyone wins, no matter what medal you go home with.

Why is it ok to promote corporate Olympic sponsors but not discuss Tibet or Darfur? That's promoting multi-national businesses/products...what does that have to do with sport?

I'm sure we'll be treated to video stories of all the terrific things China has accomplished economically- what does that have to do with sport?

Hmmmmmmm. maybe the next Olympics we can organize the activists and aid groups to sponsor the Olympics on behalf of the current group of people being raped/murdered/tortured/starved - we could buy time on television to promote the refugees and victims' stories, create merchandising for various Olympic teams.

Walk the walk. Don't talk about fair play. Live it.

Posted by: Andrea | August 8, 2008 9:13 PM | Report abuse

watching the Olympic opening ceremony...quite a show! and......what does this ceremony have to do with sport for all of you who say Olympics should just be about the sports and athletes?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 8, 2008 11:38 PM | Report abuse

yunzhiwei, I agree, and as an woman of First Nations descent in the USA the US has no business constantly telling other countries their right's or wrong's. Especially by Kobe Byrant!!

Posted by: Littlewolf | August 12, 2008 11:26 AM | Report abuse

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