Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) accused the NBA of being complicit in "Chinese state-sanctioned abuse of children" after the league misled lawmakers on its training academy in Xinjiang, China.
"Recent investigations suggest that your organization has been aware of Chinese state-sanctioned abuse of children in its Xinjiang basketball training camps, but did not take action," a Thursday letter from Blackburn and Rubio to NBA commissioner Adam Silver states.
"The Chinese Government and Communist Party are committing some of the worst human rights violations of our time. … History will not judge kindly those who remained silent or were complicit in the Chinese Communist Party's human rights abuses."
The letter comes after the NBA claimed in July that it "has had no involvement with the Xinjiang basketball academy for more than a year." A recent ESPN report, however, called the statement "completely inaccurate," with former academy coaches revealing that the training center was fully operational in spring 2019. According to the coaches, the NBA was "still seeking other coaches to move" to Xinjiang "well into the summer" of 2019.
Academy coaches also said young players in the training center suffered routine physical abuse by the league's Chinese partners. A former employee compared the Xinjiang academy to "World War II Germany," and one American coach said he was surveilled by the Chinese government and detained three times without cause. The abuse reportedly continued after coaches filed reports to the NBA's Shanghai office.
"It is appalling to learn that child athletes were allegedly physically abused at NBA training academies in China and that the league was looking to reopen their training camp in the Xinjiang region, despite telling me otherwise," Blackburn told the Washington Free Beacon. "The more we learn, the more questions come up, and Commissioner Adam Silver must clear the air."
Silver, who is a max donor to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, has yet to answer for the bombshell ESPN report. CNN's Wolf Blitzer failed to mention the scandal in a 16-minute interview held hours after the report was published. Blackburn and Rubio's letter calls on Silver to clarify the league's "degree of engagement with the Chinese Communist government."
The NBA has placed social justice at the center of its July 30 restart, allowing players to wear custom messages on their jerseys, such as "Black Lives Matter," "I Can't Breathe," and "Say Their Names." Not included in the list of approved messages, however, are statements criticizing China's human rights abuses. Silver praised the league's "long history of supporting important issues around social justice" in his interview with Blitzer but did not address the Communist nation.
Blackburn has previously called Xinjiang "one of the world's worst humanitarian zones." China reportedly holds more than one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps in the region, with detainees subject to torture, physical abuse, and forced sterilization treatments in an attempt to reduce Uighur birth rates.
Current and former league officials have kowtowed to China on the issue. Former Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said critics of China are "using abuses elsewhere to try to distract from our own poor record on human rights" in a Thursday tweet. Van Gundy currently works as an NBA analyst for Turner Sports, which is led by CNN president Jeff Zucker.