Liberty is the American value, the value that laid the foundation for the revolution and America’s existence. Thus, the first amendment arose, granting its citizenry the protection of the right to free speech.
The past decade we’ve witnessed challenges the first amendment has faced in first person, most prominently on college campuses, once the bastions of free speech. And not only has there been an outright attack on free speech, but also the latest comes from an even more unlikely place – the NBA. It all started when the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey tweeted nothing more than expressing his support for the people of Hong Kong in their ‘fight for freedom’. The Chinese government quickly responded, threatening to cut sponsorship deals with the NBA.
It didn’t take long for the NBA superstar LeBron James to voice his concerns on said issue. What many people forget is that the first amendment reads that it’s congress which shall make no law regarding the freedom of speech, not private citizens or groups of thereof to create their own ‘laws’ on their property. But not LeBron, not even when he criticizes Daryl Morey.
In his criticism, what he says is not incorrect by any stretch of the imagination. Any speech has its ramifications and many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically and emotionally as well, as he says. Just like everybody else, at least in the free world, he’s entitled to his own opinion. It turns out, he was only enlightening us that speech has ramifications. He was not talking about substance. That’s someone else’s job.
This, however, was not always the case. He was once told to shut up and dribble by Fox News journalist Laura Ingraham. Back then, not so long ago, he meant too much to society as a whole, to the youth and to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out.
No long before, on the e-sports turf, something similar happened when a Honkonger Hearthstone professional player made a political statement on an official tournament in Taiwan. He received a yearlong ban from entering tournaments on top of having his winnings revoked (in fairness, the rules were broken).
Filmmakers, on the other hand, make it a stop further stomping into the self-censorship muddy ground. The Meg, for example, took place mostly in China and having Chinese cast members only so it can sell better over there (for which in principle there is nothing wrong with). Iron Man 3 took it a step further having few scenes recast, just to change some of the cast members with Chinese ones. The latest controversy comes from the animated movie Abominable which shows the disputed China’s nine-dash line in the South China Sea, an area rich with resources on which many countries lay claims.
These few examples show that it turns out even the rich and famous have their price. But, selling out and self-censorship does not stand that high on the ethical crime scale. After all, that is exactly the beauty of a free society – the ability to self-censor for a personal gain. More importantly, the kind of issues one self-censors is what matters.
Thirty years ago we didn’t have internet, smartphones, social media and whatnot. We did have a wall in Berlin though, dividing the free world from the authoritarian menace. The wall fell and almost thirty years later, the question still looms over our heads – how much, if at all, we’ve seen a positive change. Even more so, the American values, enshrined in the Bill of rights, that stood at the helm of the free world for so many years seem to lose their charm. The catering to the authoritarian regimes in recent times, by all walks of life, does not paint a beautiful picture. It’s a pity we are to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall in such fashion.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter, once said Martin Luther King. For LeBron James, it seems this process has already started. Don’t let it start for you.
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