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The NFL unveiled its most robust schedule of International Games on Wednesday and that was a great thing because the series is expanding to five games in three countries and the league is exporting some of its better teams and biggest stars, including Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
These games — three in the United Kingdom, one in Germany, and one in Mexico — have a feel of being special and not just because the Seattle Seahawks, who play Tampa Bay in Munich Nov. 13, are already trying to pick up some German.
I have covered international games in Mexico, Germany and Japan during the preseason and multiple regular season-games in London’s Wembley Stadium, and I can tell you the atmosphere is enthusiastic and palpably different among most of the participants.
Because playing the greatest American sport abroad is exciting.
It makes these players and coaches feel kind of like ambassadors in foreign lands.
And back home, most of the games bring the added attraction of kicking off at 9:30 a.m. on the east coast which means a Sunday NFL slate that starts in the morning and doesn’t stop until maybe 14 hours later.
So I love that the NFL determined that beginning with the 2022 season, up to four of the teams from the conference whose teams are eligible for a ninth regular-season home game would instead be designated to play a neutral-site international game each year.
This is great news…
…But only as long as the NFL never includes China in this rotation.
China, we all know, is a lot of things: It’s exotic, enormous, and the home to untold hundreds of millions of awesome people who love the United States and all things America.
It was amazing, for example, that in 2019 and 2020 freedom loving Chinese took to the streets of Hong Kong because they wanted freedom, democracy and basic human rights. Many of them carried American flags and displayed copies of the U.S. Constitution.
Some sang our national anthem on their streets.
But China is nonetheless a problem because its government is not a friend to the United States.
The sooner we understand this the better off we’ll be. The sooner the NFL, which so far has a modest footprint in China, realizes this the better off it’ll be.
I say this because the Chinese government, a communist regime, taints everything it touches.
American Universities are tainted by it, as they find themselves unwittingly (or not) supporting Beijing’s military build up, according to an NBC News report.
American politicians are tainted by it, as they’re targeted so as to buy their influence here — even by possibly using sex as part of the purchase price.
American corporations are tainted by it, as the stain of forced labor is all over every Nike shoe and Apple runs a liberal operation in California but is forced to accept surveillance and censorship by the Chinese government abroad, according the New York Times.
The Chinese government is a snake and it wraps itself around everything it touches. Then, not surprisingly, it starts to squeeze.
It did this to the NBA. We all know this.
Since 2004, the NBA has played over two dozen games in China. Star players travel there every year for promotional tours and are paid for the trips. And, of course, because there are 1.4 billion people in that country, NBA products selling there bring a hefty profit, including the $1.5 billion deal Chinese multinational Tencent signed with the league to remain its digital partner.
State controlled China Central Television is the sole broadcaster of NBA games in China and it’s been that way since the 1990s.
So last year when former Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom took on the Chinese government, calling it out for its undeniable human rights abuses, calling leader Xi Jinping “a brutal dictator” and demanding freedom for Tibet, Tencent and CCT merely removed the Celtics from its broadcasts.
Freedom, by the way, was traded by the Celtics to the Houston Rockets this year and then waived. It was probably all coincidental and tangential to his China stance, of course.
Facing this track record and with its great success doing business elsewhere, the NFL should stay the course and concentrate on England, Mexico, Germany, and even Canada, as markets to explore and harvest.
Those are countries the NFL can partner with and even conquer, in some respects, as it exports its mass appeal without compromising American values.
But China, well, it is not.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero