Former ESPN host Dan Le Batard is far from always admirable. He helped elevate some of the most cowardly voices in sports media, such as Bomani Jones, Sarah Spain, Mike Ryan, and Pablo Torre. And his show is often a megaphone for hateful commentators, like proud racist Jemele Hill and wife-beater Howard Bryant.
However, to his credit, Le Batard can also be an independent who sometimes challenges media orthodoxy, and on Thursday, he rose to the occasion. This time, he condemned his former employer and sports pundits everywhere for ignoring human rights violations in China, which will soon host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“We’re just gonna go on with the Olympics in China, and we’re just going to not try and apply any of our freedoms of protest, of speech?” Le Batard railed incredulously.
“They’re being warned right now about ‘be careful of what you say freely in that country.’ I’m tired of America, with its business interests, bowing to things that don’t represent basic human right freedoms that we all agree upon.”
He’s not wrong. The Guardian reported recently that teams have warned athletes about the dangers of speaking out in support of Uyghur Muslims, human rights and athlete advocacy groups while in Beijing. To demonstrate what can happen to those who refuse to keep silent, Yaqiu Wang, a Human Rights Watch researcher, pointed to the recent disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai.
But even those Olympic athletes who keep to themselves may still face privacy concerns. Last week, Team USA recommended that athletes use disposable computers and burner phones when they travel to Beijing next month to avoid Chinese surveillance.
But, despite these alarming warnings, too few sports pundits have addressed these egregious issues. Nor will they mention that Golden State Warriors part-owner Chamath Palihapitiya admitted over the weekend that he does not care about the plight of Uyghur Muslims in China. So credit to Le Batard for speaking out.
And speak out, he did: “If you’re not gonna give me a full boycott, I’m asking for sports to use all of its maximum power to apply the pressure and not just shrug its shoulders on our athletes, [who] can’t even speak about this while we’re there because this is China’s laws. We’re playing by China’s rules.”
I’m usually the last person to call for a boycott of anything, but China is dangerous. China has committed genocide, threatened the privacy of athletes, and, lest we forget, unleashed a lab-made virus that changed the trajectory of the world. And yet we still allow China to host the Olympics?
Hopefully, Le Batard’s commentary opens the door for other sports hosts, woke or otherwise, to weigh in. Even if ESPN won’t say anything because of its relationship with the NBA — a league which knowingly profits off Chinese slave labor — there is no reason The Ringer, CBS Sports, NBC Sports and USA Today have kept their mouths shut.
“Are you good with the packaging being commercial on all things China and the athletes not speaking freely on anything? Are you good with supporting that?” Le Batard asks members of his audience and fellow sports pundits alike. “Are you gonna watch the Olympics? Because I sure as f*ck am not.”
Nice to see someone taking a stand.