ESPN and Northwestern University have remained silent after J.A. Adande, a professor at the school’s Medill School of Journalism, compared ongoing human rights abuses committed by China to election reform efforts in the U.S. during an appearance on the Disney-owned sports network.
During last Friday’s “Around the Horn,” host Tony Reali kicked off discussion of the Winter Olympics in Beijing as the Chinese Communist Party commits genocide against the Uyghur Muslims, asking program regular Adande how he could reconcile enjoying the games while China commits massive human rights abuses.
Adande began by claiming sports fans need “cognitive dissonance” to enjoy modern athletics amid the NFL’s concussion issues and looming allegations against Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder before criticizing America.
“And who are we to criticize China’s human rights records when we have ongoing attacks by the agents of the state against unarmed citizens, and we’ve got assaults on the voting rights of our people of color in various states in this country. So sports – I think it is possible and it’s necessary more than ever to just shut everything out if you are to enjoy the actual games themselves,” Adande told Reali.
Reali didn’t appear phased by the remark, telling Adande he appreciated everything he said.
“It’s very hard to find a country that isn’t problematic when it comes to human rights, including here,” Adande added.
“It’s very hard to find a country that isn’t problematic when it comes to human rights, including here.”
ESPN declined to comment on Adande’s remark. Northwestern University also did not respond to a request for comment.
Outkick columnist Bobby Burack, a frequent critic of ESPN, said he even emailed ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro seeking comment. He said the network was fearful of criticizing Adande because he’s African-American and didn’t want to take social media grief over it.
“He won’t respond. ESPN is afraid, so expect more CCP and racist commentary to come,” Burack said. “ESPN won’t do it.”
ESPN has been regularly criticized in recent years for spending significant airtime covering social issues favored by corporate liberal media, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, as they intertwined with sports. Adande’s comment was ripped by conservatives, including Media Research Center vice president Dan Gainor, who called the suggestion “sick and evil.”
“He tries to equate laws like voter ID, that are supported by the majority of every racial group, with genocide. What he is doing is covering for a nation that has a systematic program of beating, torturing, raping and murdering Uyghur Muslims. And he insanely compares that to America, the most free nation on Earth,” Gainor told Fox News Digital.
“What he is doing is covering for a nation that has a systematic program of beating, torturing, raping and murdering Uyghur Muslims. And he insanely compares that to America, the most free nation on Earth.”
“ESPN, like its corporate owners Disney, has gone out of its way to kowtow to China,” Gainor continued. “There is no morality at ESPN. No ethics. Only greed — piled on the bones of dead Uyghurs that ESPN doesn’t give a damn about.”
Disney, the parent company of ESPN, has long been accused of overlooking China’s ongoing issues. In 2020, a live-action remake of “Mulan” was heavily criticized for filming scenes in China’s controversial Xinjiang Province, where Beijing is accused of human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslim.
“There is no morality at ESPN. No ethics. Only greed — piled on the bones of dead Uyghurs that ESPN doesn’t give a damn about.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney thanked eight government entities in its film credits, including the public security bureau in the city of Turpan, where more than a dozen “re-education camps” were said to be holding Uyghurs in extrajudicial detention.
The company also thanked the publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee, the Chinese Communist Party’s agency that’s allegedly responsible for producing state propaganda about its efforts to detain Uyghurs in the region, according to the outlet.
Earlier this year, ESPN largely turned a blind eye to Golden State Warriors part-owner Chamath Palihapitiya after he made callous remarks about the imprisoned Uyghurs in China, claiming “nobody cares” about them. The comments sparked intense backlash on social media, but ESPN essentially skipped the controversy on air.
Adande formerly covered the NBA, also known for its activist players like Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James who are outspoken progressives on domestic issues but often go quiet when it comes to China, a cash cow for the league. Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter Freedom has stood out in that regard, criticizing fellow players for not calling out Chinese abuses.
DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall says Adande’s comment was “quite disappointing,” but he blames ESPN as much as the professor himself.
“In recent years, ESPN has taken on an activist approach to cultural issues and is apparently no longer interested in just focusing on sports programming. While the Northwestern professor is free to hold his own opinions, he doesn’t have a right to access ESPN programming to express them,” McCall told Fox News Digital.
“ESPN has taken on an activist approach to cultural issues and is apparently no longer interested in just focusing on sports programming.”
“It would seem ESPN should at least provide some perspective or explanation for why it gave a platform to this kind of false comparison. For free expression reasons, Northwestern should not be refereeing what its employees say personally to media outlets,” McCall added. “Having said that, it is a pretty sure bet that Northwestern would, indeed, condemn an employee who made public comments on a wide range of other cultural pressure points.”
McCall said Adande’s point also “totally ignores the broader context in which these games are being held,” which is important for Americans to understand.
“Context is quite important in the Olympics these days, which everybody knows are about many things other than who wins the bobsled,” McCall said.
However, Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson says Northwestern has done the right thing by staying quiet.
“What the professor says about politics is none of Northwestern University’s business. People can criticize him if they want, but the university should not be announcing an official viewpoint to which it expects faculty, staff, and students to adhere. That is the core of academic freedom and free expression on campuses: The university should stay out of it and let the debate happen without putting its heavy thumb on the scale,” Jacobson told Fox News Digital.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn and Tyler McCarthy contributed to this report.
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