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Opinion | Brittney Griner’s fate poses a warning to U.S. sports and Hollywood

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Audiences in authoritarian countries may buy American products—but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy American values.

It’s an unpleasant truth that the American sports and entertainment industry has to face as WNBA star Britney Greenner faces 10 years in a Russian prison for drug offenses.

Free traders have long argued for cultural and sporting engagement with authoritarian states that American cultural products are great ambassadors of American values. But the price of entering these markets is often silence — or at least silence — on everything from basic facts about Taiwan as an independent country to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Griner’s detention suggests the cost could be higher if dictators see an opportunity to turn stars into bargaining chips.

This raises the question: Are the dangers and compromises really worth it?

Of course, global audiences have already spent billions to watch street racer Dominic Toretto’s spirit of physical defiance in the Fast and Furious series or the dinosaur death race in the Jurassic World movies. . LeBron James is a huge international basketball star — with hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and endorsements.

but nothing special Democratic Regarding such exports. Stars and executives seeking access to these business opportunities may be well paid — but many also pay with their integrity and dignity.

For example, in early 2019, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings admitted that the company reviewed Hasan Minaj’s Patriot Act that criticized Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed An episode of Mohammed bin Salman in exchange for the ability to stream shows with sexually explicit content in the kingdom. Last year, actor John Cena bowed in Mandarin to apologise to his Chinese fans for referring to Taiwan as an independent country.

Disney hoped the live-action remake of “Mulan” would be a big hit in China, but shamed itself two years ago by thanking Xinjiang government agencies, including those suspected of being involved in repression and surveillance of ethnic minorities.

But another dust settle calls for higher stakes.

In the fall of 2019, Daryl Morey, then the general manager of the Houston Rockets, briefly tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong before it was deleted. Before National Basketball Association President Adam Silver visited China, he failed to exercise freedom of speech. The NBA said in a statement that Morey’s remarks “deeply offend many of our friends and fans in China and are regrettable.” In China, James asked Silver if Morey would be disciplined for the trouble he caused the league, a frustrating display of an outspoken star who favored interests over principles on other issues.

This time, though, the fallout isn’t limited to a domestic PR disaster. The Chinese government and business people demanded that Morey be fired. CCTV, which owns the exclusive rights to broadcast NBA games, banned those games (except for a playoff game in 2020) and did not resume regular broadcasts until this spring. Chinese sponsors cut ties with the league. In April 2021, Silver estimated “total lost revenue across all of our business lines in China” at “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Chinese fans, businesses and government officials may love USA Basketball. But it turns out they prefer the US to respect China’s territorial claims. The NBA has failed to use its popularity in China to defend American values. Instead, an authoritarian regime proves that it can and will use the coalition’s success against it.

The NBA’s misfortune echoes that in the larger disaster for Graner and her family. Greener was arrested in Moscow in February on his way to play for Russia’s UMMC Yekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason and charged with bringing into the country two e-cigarette packs filled with cannabis oil. Her detention coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, giving the impression that the Kremlin had actually taken a high-profile hostage. Earlier this month, she pleaded guilty, saying she accidentally packaged the cartridges.

If the optimistic logic of American cultural export holds true, Griner’s American identity and stardom should protect her. But the Russian government’s decision to arrest and prosecute Greener revealed a blunt calculation: Americans valued Greener more than Russians. The Putin regime could use her as a bargaining chip in a showdown with the United States without causing domestic discontent.

It should have been clear long ago that what is good for Hollywood or American sports is not inherently good for America. With fewer U.S. films allowed in China, Greener is in a Russian jail, and U.S. sports leagues and entertainment companies need to be liquidated.

Appeasing a tyrannical government is never a good thing — especially when the reward comes with poison.



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