SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Sure. I mean, that’s, ESPN, here’s the deal. ESPN is trying to distract from the fact that they will not stand up to the NBA and ask the tough questions. The NBA is worth over a billion dollars in China, NBA China is. That’s why, Hugh, last fall when Hong Kong was in the throes of protests because of the authoritarian crackdown, the NBA would say nothing. And you might remember that the Houston Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, when he retweeted, he didn’t even say it himself, he just retweeted one little line that said stand with Hong Kong or free Hong Kong, and oh, my goodness, the sky was falling. He got censored. The league came down hard on him. And so I just asked in my letter that I sent on Friday that you reference, I said listen, if the NBA’s going to put these social justice statements on the back of uniforms, which is what they’re doing now, why is it that there’s nothing on there about, like, free Hong Kong or the Uyghurs or anything that has to do with the billions of dollars the NBA makes in China. And you see the response from the reporter, and now ESPN, and say oh, you know, well, the reporter, we’ll take care of that. We’ll silence him. But they don’t want to address the core issue, which is the NBA’s relationship with China. ESPN has a slice of that pie. That’s what we ought to be talking about here.
HEWITT: And the Woj story is a diversion. I want to get to the real story. But just to be clear, you think he should be reinstated as well as I do?
HAWLEY: And I said at the time, I said on Friday, you know, that all of the lobbyists start calling me, and then they send in the news they put out an apology and they made Woj apologize. I said I don’t want apologies. In fact, some other reporter asked me before ESPN apologized at all, they said do you want an apology, and I said no. I don’t want an apology. And I certainly don’t want the guy suspended. This doesn’t have to do with that. My point is they won’t even ask the questions. And if you ask the questions, then the response is F you. I mean, it’s, so they don’t even want the question asked, let alone do they want to ask it themselves. That’s the problem here.
HEWITT: The problem is also bigger than ESPN. Lots of stories were written about Woj cursing you out, but ESPN even put out a statement saying what he did was completely unacceptable. Well, we get all that. What do you think it says about the media that they’ll condone, defend, cover a reporter who swears, but not a brutal regime that has the Uyghurs living in internment camps?
HAWLEY: Well, it tells you, I think, of just where we are with way too many of our multinational corporations. Now let’s just take the NBA. I mean, the NBA has a deal with the Chinese social media platform Tencent that alone, Hugh, just the Tencent platform deal, is worth $1.5 billion dollars. That’s with a B, with the NBA. They signed it last November. The NBA now has more social media followers in China than they do in the United States, so I get it. It’s a big market. I understand that. I understand that. But that doesn’t mean that Beijing ought to be able to call the tune for the NBA and all of its players and coaches, and for that matter, for Americans. And that’s what’s happening. Beijing is saying listen, if you want access to our market, then you’re going to say what we want you to say. And that means no criticism of us at all. Zero. We want to crackdown on the Uyghurs, we want to put people in concentration camps, we want to steamroll Hong Kong. You will remain silent. You will go along with us. I frankly think that’s anti-American. The NBA needs to stand up and say uh-uh, we are not going to be silent, and you’re not going to be able to buy us off.
HEWITT: Do you believe the NBA needs to disclose publicly a detail on the financial dealings with China? I mean, it’s been reported they could lose $400 million. You just said a billion and a half. I’d like to see an accounting of everything detailed. Do you think they should put that out?
HAWLEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. What we know now is pieced together from public reports, and I salute the news organizations, not ESPN, who have been doing this public reporting. But we know that the NBA does over $10 billion in revenue. We know at least 10-20% of that is done in China every year. And like I say, we know that some of their deals of NBA, or I’m sorry, with Chinese social media platforms are worth alone over a billion. But let’s see it all. And you know, we should also see what particular teams, the slices that they are getting. Players have said, some of them won’t put their names to it, so they’ve said on background to reporters that they make more on endorsement deals in China than they make from their U.S. salary. So this is big time money for the NBA, and I think we do deserve to know exactly what they’re making. And we deserve to have them explain to us why they won’t stand up to this authoritarian regime. By the way, Hugh, we’re just talking about basic American principles. This shouldn’t be controversial. This is the stuff that we all agree on as Americans – free speech, freedom of worship. I mean, it’s not a hard question to answer, do you think that the Chinese government ought to be putting people into concentration camps. That shouldn’t be a tough question.
HEWITT: Should the Judiciary Committee subpoena Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, to come in and talk to you?
HAWLEY: Well, that’s a great idea. You know, I sent my letter on Friday that drew the rebuke from the ESPN reporter, was addressed to Adam Silver. And it asked for these answers. And it said listen, you know, again, if you’re going to put these social justice cause statements now on the back of their jerseys, and only a handful of them, Hugh, that NBA corporate has approved, it’s not like the players can put whatever they want on the back of the jersey. NBA corporate has approved a handful. And predictably, they have nothing to say about anything related to China. And for that, they don’t say things like support our troops or God bless America. All of that stuff is verboten. You can’t say any of that. So I just asked why aren’t there other slogans on the jerseys, and why don’t you tell us about your relationship with China? So I think that getting these answers is absolutely crucial, and I’m open to just about any avenue to get them. But I’ll come back to where we started, which is it would be nice for some so-called news organizations to actually ask these questions, because these are very legitimate questions when you’ve got an outfit that is doing billions of dollars in China in revenues every year.
HEWITT: Now ESPN is owned by Disney. A report in January quotes a financial analyst estimating Disney’s theme park revenue in Shanghai is a billion bucks annually. The 2019 box office, including Avengers, $614 million, Captain Marvel, $154 million, Frozen 2, $122 million, Lion King, $120 million, Aladdin, $53 million. That’s a billion dollars in box office. So between the theme parks and the movies, Disney is making so much money in China. They own ESPN. Is that the issue here?
HAWLEY: Well, the money is absolutely the issue. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. And you’re quite right to point out that Disney is the parent company of ESPN. So you think about what those platforms across those platforms are worth. And ESPN alone, just to come back to the NBA and China, ESPN benefits big time from the NBA’s global stage, global platform and global contracts. So there is a lot of money at stake here for these corporate platforms. And I think there’s no doubt that that’s driving a lot of this.
HEWITT: I want to be crystal clear. I’m all in favor of athletes speaking their mind. I’m agreeing with them that Woj shouldn’t have been suspended. You are as well. I’m not saying subpoena LeBron or any of these other people that are coming out for him, although you might want to welcome them in to talk about China. I don’t if they’ll come. But this isn’t about changing anyone’s speech. It’s asking for more speech, Senator Hawley.
HAWLEY: Absolutely. And it’s asking for some answers as to what exactly the relationship is and why it is that Beijing seems to be able to snap their fingers and to get American companies and American individuals to be silent on critical issues. I mean, as you say, athletes speak their mind all the time on a variety of topics. They certainly have been speaking their mind in recent weeks. That’s fine. But it’s strange that when Beijing says ah-ah-ah, not a word about the Uyghurs in concentration camps. Not a word about Hong Kong. Not a word critical of us. All of a sudden, oh my goodness, that is the NBA’s official line that they mustn’t. I mean, just to go back again to Daryl Morey and the Rockets last fall, when he retweeted that one little tweet, Adam Silver, NBA commissioner, said this could cost the NBA hundreds of millions of dollars, one tweet. That’s the kind of power Beijing seems to have. That’s worrisome.