LeBron James Jumps into ESPN Controversy, Draws Senator’s Criticism

LeBron James, Lakers

Getty LeBron James, Lakers

Top ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski might be sidelined bit after a profane email sent to a U.S. senator, but he can rest assured that he has the support of several NBA players—including the league’s most prominent star, Lakers forward LeBron James.

On Sunday, after the network suspended Wojnarowski in the wake of an email he sent to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., James tweeted the hashtag #FreeWoj, a line that had been going around among NBA players, fans and other media members.

Among the other players who tweeted their support of Wojnarowski were the Clippers’ Lou Williams, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Boston’s Enes Kanter and Denver’s Jamal Murray.


ESPN Quiet on Wojnarowski Suspension

On Sunday, the New York Post reported that, two days after Wojnarowski sent the email, he would be suspended and his planned trip to the NBA’s restart “bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando would be put on hold.

According to the Post, “ESPN declined comment, though their actions will likely become obvious this week when the ultra-prominent Wojnarowski is not on the air.”

The Post also reported that the suspension would last two weeks, though the Washington Post reported that the suspension would last one-to-two weeks and that Wojnarowski still would travel to the bubble, only at a later date.

Wojnarowski is ESPN’s top NBA reporter and has been among the top reporters in the business for the past 15 years. He left Yahoo! Sports in the summer of 2017 for the gig at ESPN, the start of a realignment of the NBA media as a whole.

LeBron James Criticized for Silence on China

The dust-up with Hawley took place Friday. Hawley’s office sent a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, criticizing the league for its policy on keeping silent on human rights abuses in China while allowing players to put pre-approved messages of social justice their jerseys during the restart of league play, scheduled to begin on July 30. Hawley objected that none of the pre-approved messages included support for police.

The NBA has been out of action since March 12 because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Hawley’s office sent out a press release highlighting the key points of the Silver letter. Wojnarowski, apparently, received that release and responded to Hawley’s press office, on his company account, with two words: “F— you.”

Hawley posted a photo of Wojnarowski’s response on Twitter and wrote, “Don’t criticize #China or express support for law enforcement to @espn. It makes them real mad.”

Wojnarowski quickly apologized, writing, “I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake. 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.”

Hawley and conservative members of the media continued to press the matter, especially pointing out the hypocrisy of the players’ willingness to speak out on issues in the U.S. but not on Chinese rights abuses. Hawley had a response for James’s support of Wojnarowski.

China cut off the NBA from its national broadcast network this year after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in October tweeted support of Hong Kong protestors, who were demonstrating against Chinese rule.

The league, its players association, and player agents have encouraged players and front-office executives to keep quiet on the matter of China, because the NBA generates significant revenue from the country and hopes to get back in the good graces of its state-owned broadcaster.

James took significant criticism when he did not back Hong Kong protestors in the wake of Morey’s tweet, instead calling Morey, “uneducated” on the subject.

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