Saturday, October 26, 2019

Small: LeBron's Hong Kong comments would fit in at OK universities


LeBron’s comments might not stand out at OK college campus
By Jonathan Small

Many people have been understandably appalled that NBA superstar LeBron James recently defended, indirectly, the Chinese government’s persecution of protestors in Hong Kong. What should equally bother Oklahomans is that there’s reason to wonder if college students in this state are being indoctrinated in such a way that they will see nothing objectionable with James’ comments.

Here’s a quick recap.  James recently criticized Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for a tweet in which Morey supported Hong Kong protestors. James said Americans have freedom of speech, but “there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself.” James said he believed Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.” Later, James tweeted, “My team and this league just went through a difficult week.  I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others.  And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen.  Could have waited a week to send it.”

James’ reticence on this issue is a bit surprising because he’s been vocal on many other political issues. When discussing how Donald Trump was elected president, James said, “I don’t think a lot of people was educated,” echoing his complaint that Morey is not educated. James has also called the president a “bum.”

I don’t agree with James’ views, but support the free speech rights that allow him to make such comments. But it’s still jarring to see him switch gears from vocal criticism of U.S. politics to endorsing silence when it comes to the oppression of people by a communist government overseas.

Could it be that James is the one who is not educated enough to understand reality—that the persecution imposed by the Chinese government is far greater than what anyone faces in the United States?

If so, James may have plenty of company even on Oklahoma college campuses. Consider the fact that the University of Oklahoma is home to a Confucius Institute with ties to the Chinese government.  The goal of the institute sounds nonthreatening—to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries—but the Hanban, the agency of the Chinese Ministry of Education, funds Confucius Institutes. The CIA has even warned the Chinese Communist Party “provides ‘strings-attached’ funding to academic institutions and think tanks to deter research that casts it in a negative light.”

Does the “understanding” of Chinese culture fostered by such programs at U.S. universities include helping students understand the very real and very severe oppression of people under the rule of the Chinese government? Somehow, I think not.

The good news is that public response to James’ comments has been overwhelmingly negative, which shows most citizens understand the reality of Chinese oppression. The bad news is there may come a time when we can’t say the same about many of our recent college graduates.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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