As Woj bombs go, this one was a doozy. In response to a letter written by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., that criticized the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver, lead ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski—whose scoops have come to be known as “Woj bombs”—wrote back a two-word response: “F*** you,” only without the censoring.
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) July 10, 2020
Hawley’s letter went after the NBA on two fronts. First, he disapproved of the list slogans that players returning to action to finish the 2019-20 season in Orlando could wear on their jerseys. None included slogans that showed support for police or troops.
Second, Hawley criticized the league for its restrictions on criticism of China following last October’s controversy over a tweet supporting Hong Kong protestors from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games this season, throttling a source of significant revenue from the league. In hopes of winning back that revenue, the league, and its players have sidestepped any further scrutiny of China and its policies.
Hawley to Silver: ‘Free Expression Appears to Stop at the Edge of Your Corporate Sponsors’ Sensibilities’
From taglines attached to the Wojnarowski email, it appeared that Hawley’s press office sent him, as it did for a bulk of the NBA media, a press release about the letter he was sending to Silver – and Wojnarowski responded to his press office.
From Hawley’s letter to Silver, which appeared on his official website:
The league’s new policy suggests a newfound commitment to enhanced employee expression. But that free expression appears to stop at the edge of your corporate sponsors’ sensibilities. And for woke capital today, profits from the Chinese market are more popular than patriotism. The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor – much like the censorship decisions of the CCP – are themselves statements about your association’s values.
If I am right – if the NBA is more committed to promoting the CCP’s interests than to celebrating its home nation – your fans deserve to know that is your view. If not, prove me wrong. Let your players stand up for the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they so choose. Give them the choice to write “Back the Blue” on their jerseys. Or “Support our Troops.” Maybe “God Bless America.” What could be more American than that? With your new policy, you have crossed the line of sanctioning specific political messages. There is no avoiding the work of clarifying the association’s values now.
Wojnarowski: ‘I Made a Regrettable Mistake’
Wojnarowski did offer a swift apology for the missive he sent to Hawley.
“I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake,” Wojnarowski wrote on Twitter. “I am sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly. I also need to apologize to my ESPN colleagues because I know my actions were unacceptable and should not reflect on any of them.”
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 10, 2020
ESPN also responded to call Wojnarowski’s response to Hawley, “unacceptable,” but did not say whether the broadcaster—which has a substantial investment in the NBA—would take any disciplinary action against its top basketball reporter at a time when the league is just getting back into action.
“We are addressing it directly with Adrian and specifics of those conversations will remain internal,” ESPN’s PR wing said in a statement.
Hawley, for his part, shook off the apology and suggested that ESPN’s business relationship with the NBA made it complicit in the silence on the issue of Chinese human rights violations.
“I don’t want an apology,” Hawley told Outkick.com. “I want ESPN to ask the NBA why they won’t let players stand up for America and be able to criticize China’s actions. But maybe ESPN won’t say anything because they benefit from the NBA’s global presence. Until ESPN speaks out, all they are really doing is enabling the Chinese Communist Party to stifle free speech in America.”