Free speech vs. revenue: The fight between what’s right and what’s profitable

The views expressed – both written and graphic – in the opinion section of The Spectrum do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.

Americans pride themselves on the First Amendment –– freedom of speech, freedom to protest –– protecting citizens from governmental consequences.

But private American corporations are showing less support for these concepts than ever before. Even though these companies have no obligation to the First Amendment, people should be able to voice political opinions without losing their jobs.

Throughout the last month, many Americans have criticized the Chinese government over the ongoing Hong Kong protests, in which citizens of Hong Kong –– whose autonomy has been historically debated –– are demanding more democracy and self-rule separate from Chinese jurisdiction.

China has a lot of economic power and can use it to dictate what corporations can and can’t say. One bad word against the government and China can threaten a large loss of profit, harming the business in the process. 

This has shown in the NBA, which has taken the spotlight for its handling of free speech and profit. 

It all started when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests, where the Chinese government has had protesters attacked and beaten for peacefully protesting. This tweet was a simple image, declaring support for Hong Kong with no text attached. 

China has a massive basketball market and contributes to a large part of the NBA’s revenue. Players also have endorsement deals in China, so speaking out against the Chinese government will more than likely lose them a lot of money as well. So it was no surprise that many NBA players, owners and coaches chastised Morey’s tweet.

Even companies like Nike and Adidas rely on the Chinese market to make massive profits, so major endorsers wouldn’t dare speak out and risk losing massive shoe deals. 

The influence China has over professional basketball makes it hard for many figures to back up Morey’s opinion and show support for Hong Kong. 

Even LeBron James, who markets himself as “more than an athlete” said Morey was “misinformed.” 

Statements like this hurt U.S. fans, as many feel China has used its economic power to interfere in different outlets like sports and gaming. Many fans also feel the NBA should do more about the situation and athletes should speak up and not allow China to silence them. 

James and many of these players are being hypocritical, as they are social warriors until money and status are on the line, then they fall silent. 

But this is not just a basketball problem, it has also affected the esports community. Like the NBA, gaming companies like Blizzard have a lot of fans in China and generate a large amount of revenue off of the country’s overwhelming gaming population. With the conflict in Hong Kong, more people in the gaming community are speaking their minds and showing support for the protesters. 

When professional Hearthstone player and Hong Kong native Blitzchung showed support for his home after a championship victory, Blizzard banned him from competing professionally for a year and took away his $3,000 prize (later returning the funds and reducing the ban to six months). The backlash against Blizzard was strong as a result, with many threatening boycotting and to stop playing the company’s games in general. 

These massive entities only care about making money and it is time to hold them accountable when issues like this arise.

If they want to silence free speech from people living here in the U.S., the American people should fight back by not supporting their teams or buying their jerseys. 

Fight back by not buying into their games or using money toward in-game items. 

Hit them where it truly hurts, not in their mind or their heart, but their wallets. 

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