Boston Celtics centre Enes Freedom — a journeyman NBA veteran who is one of the sports world’s fiercest critics of human rights abuse — is challenging NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“All the gold medals you can win in the world are not more important than your values, your principles,” Freedom said in an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics. “And I feel like we need to stand up for what’s right.”
Freedom was asked about Crosby and McDavid by host David Common during the Friday interview. The two were among the first three players submitted for roster consideration by Hockey Canada, which is in the process of selecting its Olympic team.
The Beijing Games begin on Feb. 4, 2022.
WATCH | NBA veteran Enes Freedom urges athletes to boycott the 2022 Olympic Games
Freedom has a long history of outspoken human rights activism, and his attention in recent months has turned from criticizing his native Turkey to the Chinese government.
He has accused Beijing of committing genocide against the Uyghurs and of suppressing dissidents in Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The House of Commons earlier this year voted to declare China’s treatment of Uyghurs a genocide, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have not made the same declaration.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said his government is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games.
‘They should not go’
Freedom said athletes choosing to attend the upcoming Beijing games will be complicit with the Chinese government and its human rights record.
“They should not go … I understand these athletes are working so hard to get to that level. But sometimes there are bigger things than sports, there are bigger things than basketball or hockey,” Freedom said.
The 29-year-old, formerly known as Enes Kanter, changed his last name after gaining U.S. citizenship earlier this week.
His criticism of China has been one of the biggest controversies of the new NBA season. The league’s Chinese media partner Tencent pulled Boston Celtics games from its airwaves earlier this season after Freedom voiced support for Tibetan independence.
China has long been the NBA’s most valuable international market. Total viewership of the league in China eclipses even domestic U.S. television.
Freedom is also a longtime enemy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has relentlessly criticized Erdoğan for human rights abuses.
Freedom had his Turkish passport revoked in 2017 and did not travel outside the U.S. until he played in Toronto on Christmas Day in 2019.
Crosby and McDavid are not the first high-profile athletes to be singled out by Freedom in his crusade against the Chinese government.
He also has made headlines this NBA season by criticizing the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James over his relationship with Nike and his alleged reluctance to speak out against China.
Freedom unveiled a custom pair of sneakers earlier this year featuring artwork of Chinese President Xi Jinping placing a crown on a kneeling James — who himself uses the nickname “King James”.
Money over Morals for the “King” 👑 <br><br>Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice<br><br>They really do “shut up & dribble” when Big Boss 🇨🇳 says so<br><br>Did you educate yourself about the slave labor that made your shoes or is that not part of your research? <a href=”https://t.co/YUA8rGYeoZ”>pic.twitter.com/YUA8rGYeoZ</a>