NBA players have come to the defense of an ESPN reporter who was suspended without pay for a profane email response to Senator Josh Hawley’s criticism of the league for ‘kowtowing’ to China.
Adrian Wojnarowski, known popularly on social media as ‘Woj,’ was suspended on Saturday by the Disney-owned sports network after Hawley, the Republican from Missouri, posted an email from the reporter on social media.
ESPN reprimanded Wojnarowski on Friday after he launched an expletive at Hawley and the company termed it ‘completely unacceptable behavior.’
Hawley made the first move when he shared a mass email criticizing NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s relationship with China.
ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski (left) was reportedly suspended on Saturday after replying to an email from Sen. Josh Hawley (right) ‘f*** you’
The email was titled ‘Senator Hawley Blasts NBA for Kowtowing to Beijing & Refusing to Support U.S. Military and Law Enforcement.’
Over the weekend, the hashtag #FreeWoj started trending on Twitter, where several big-name NBA players showed their support for Wojnarowski.
LeBron James tweeted the hashtag #FreeWoj and two fists bumping each other.
Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers seconded that motion, tweeting: ‘Aye #Freewoj man’ followed by two laughing emojis.
Isaiah Thomas, the two-time All Star who played most recently with the Washington Wizards, agreed with Williams.
Enes Kanter, the Boston Celtics big man, tweeted a gif showing an army preparing for war.
LeBron James tweeted the hashtag #FreeWoj and two fists bumping each other
Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers seconded that motion, tweeting: ‘Aye #Freewoj man’ followed by two laughing emojis
Anthony Tolliver, a power forward for the Memphis Grizzlies, also tweeted ‘#Freewoj.’
Enes Kanter, the Boston Celtics big man, tweeted a gif showing an army preparing for war. He joked that it was ‘#NBATwitter finding out ESPN suspended Woj.’
Spencer Dinwiddie, the Brooklyn Nets star, tweeted ‘#FreeWoj’ though he joked that in a battle he would take Shams Charania, a reporter for The Atlantic, over Wojnarowski
He joked that it was ‘#NBATwitter finding out ESPN suspended Woj.’
Kanter added: ‘#FreeWoj.’
Anthony Tolliver, a power forward for the Memphis Grizzlies, also tweeted ‘#Freewoj.’
Spencer Dinwiddie, the Brooklyn Nets star, tweeted ‘#FreeWoj’ though he joked that in a battle he would take Shams Charania, a reporter for The Atlantic, over Wojnarowski.
In addition to ESPN’s suspension of their employee, The New York Post reports that NBA officials also cancelled Wojnarowski’s trip to Orlando, Florida, to report on the NBA ‘bubble’ ahead of its resumed season on July 30.
It is unclear how long Wojnarowski will be on the shelf, but it will reportedly be without pay.
Hawley’s email was titled ‘Senator Hawley Blasts NBA for Kowtowing to Beijing & Refusing to Support U.S. Military and Law Enforcement.’
Hawley, a Republican, sent a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday with the subject line saying ‘Senator Hawley Blasts NBA for Kowtowing to Beijing & Refusing to Support US Military and Law Enforcement.’ Two minutes later, Wojnarowski responded on his ESPN account from his phone with two words: ‘F*** you.’
Hawley took issue with the NBA’s ‘apparent decision to strictly limit messages players can wear on their jerseys to a few pre-approved, social justice slogans while censoring support for law enforcement officers or the military and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).’
In addition to questioning the NBA’s relationship with China, Hawley’s letter also asked why the league won’t allow phrases like ‘Support Our Troops’ and ‘Back the Blue’ on player jerseys once the league restarts.
Two minutes later, Wojnarowski responded on his ESPN account from his phone with two words: ‘F*** you.’
Hawley tweeted out Wojnarowski’s response, sparking a firestorm of reactions and Wojnarowski’s eventual apology.
‘I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake, I’m sorry for the way I hand;ed myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly,’ wrote Wojnarowski.
ESPN also condemned the response and said ‘it is inexcusable for anyone working with ESPN to respond in the way Adrian did to Senator Hawley.’
‘We are addressing it directly and specifics of those conversations will remain internal.’
Wojnarowski posted an apology on his Twitter page saying he was ‘disrespectful’ and that he ‘made a regrettable mistake’
ESPN also released a statement on Friday saying Wojnarowski’s behavior was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘inexcusable’
Hawley responded to ESPN, saying he didn’t want an apology from Wojnarowski. Instead, he urged the network to ‘call out the NBA’
But Hawley wasn’t interested in an apology and responded to ESPN’s tweet.
‘Don’t make @wojespn apologize. He’s just saying what he really thinks. Call out the @NBA. You know, your job.’
It was reported by ESPN on Thursday that the NBA will permit players to write social justice-themed statements and messages on their uniforms during the upcoming season.
The NBA and the players union agreed on a list of messages that can be chosen to be displayed above the numbers on the back of their team uniforms.
The list includes phrases like ‘Black Lives Matter’; ‘Say Their Names’; ‘Vote’; ‘I Can’t Breathe’; ‘Justice’; ‘Peace’; ‘Equality’; ‘Freedom’; ‘Enough’; ‘Power to the People’; ‘Justice Now’; ‘Say Her Name’; ‘Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can)’; ‘Liberation’; ‘See Us’; ‘Hear Us’; ‘Respect Us’; ‘Love Us’; ‘Listen’; ‘Listen to Us’; ‘Stand Up’; ‘Ally’; ‘Anti-Racist’; ‘I Am A Man’; ‘Speak Up’; ‘How Many More’; ‘Group Economics’; ‘Education Reform’; and ‘Mentor’.
On Twitter, Hawley wondered by the league wouldn’t include statements like ‘Support our Troops’ or ‘Back the Blue.’
‘Or given how much $$ @nba makes in #China, how about “Free Hong Kong”!’
Hawley tweeted that he sent a letter to Silver ‘to ask for answers.’
As part of the NBA’s plan to highlight social justice issues, the league and the players’ union have also decided to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ onto courts at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida when the season restarts.
The Daily Mail has confirmed the story, which was first reported by ESPN, but has not been officially announced by the league.
The NBA will use three arenas at the Disney site as 22 of the league’s 30 teams conclude the regular season beginning July 30. The playing courts are all expected to be emblazoned with ‘Black Lives Matter.’
The National Basketball Players Association and the league have discussed methods to promote messages of equality and police reform since the death of George Floyd prompted nationwide and worldwide protests.
The NBA and the players union agreed on a list of messages that can be chosen to be displayed above the numbers on the back of their team uniforms. On Twitter, Hawley wondered why the league wouldn’t include statements like ‘Support our Troops’ or ‘Back the Blue.’
But the league’s embrace of Black Lives Matter and its support for protests against police brutality have been criticized by conservatives who accused the teams and players of capitulating to China over similar statements of support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The league has outlawed any social justice phrases that pertain to China after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey received backlash from the NBA’s Chinese partners last fall for tweeting support of protesters in Hong Kong.
Houston Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, apologized last fall for posting a tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests
The NBA backed Morey’s free speech rights, but the remark caused an icy situation with China for the league with a financial fallout estimated at $400million by Silver.
Silver said Chinese officials wanted Morey to be fired for his tweet supporting anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, and the league emphatically dismissed the request.
Silver also said that the league is already feeling ‘substantial’ financial losses because of the Chinese reaction to Morey’s deleted tweet.
‘Obviously, we made clear that we were being asked to fire him by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,’ Silver said Thursday during an appearance at the Time 100 Health Summit in New York.
‘We said, “There’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him”.’
This isn’t the first time that a well-known ESPN personality has been reprimanded by the Disney-owned network for publicly calling out a national politician.
Morey apologized for the tweet he swiftly deleted over the weekend that included an image of the activists’ rally cry: ‘Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong’
Jemele Hill, a longtime former ESPN writer who became a co-host of the network flagship show SportsCenter, came under fire in 2017 when she tweeted that President Trump was a ‘bigot’ and a ‘white supremacist.’
After the White House said Hill’s comments should be a ‘fireable offense’, ESPN reprimanded the commentator.
A month later, Hill was suspended for two weeks by the network after she posted another tweet urging a boycott of advertisers after comments made by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones over the team’s policy on kneeling during the national anthem.
In 2018, Hill left ESPN after 12 years at the network. She has since joined The Atlantic as a staff writer and she hosts her own podcast.