". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13

Commentary

Land of the Free to Criticize

July 14, 2022

Plato and Aristotle asked what form of government was best, and now the debate has been taken up by pro basketball players. On Tuesday, former Boston Celtic Enes Kanter Freedom tweeted at LeBron James, “You are free to leave buddy.” James had suggested WNBA player Brittney Griner might prefer remaining in a Russian prison, instead of returning to America. “I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?’” said James.

Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, pled guilty to bringing vape cartridges containing hashish oil, a cannabis product, into Russia, but insisted she did not intend to break Russian law. Griner has been detained since her arrival in Russia on February 17, before Russia invaded Ukraine, and the State Department has been working unsuccessfully to secure her release.

James tried to clarify that he “wasn’t knocking our beautiful country,” but rather trying to empathize with Griner’s emotions, after having been detained for so long. But Kanter Freedom (Kanter legally changed his last name to Freedom after he became a U.S. citizen last year) wasn’t convinced. “You call it a step back, we call this a walk back. You are free to leave buddy or you can even volunteer for an exchange for her. Some people literally have NO idea what [it is] like to live in a dictatorship. Keep taking your freedom for granted,” he tweeted.

Of Turkish heritage, Kanter Freedom has been an outspoken proponent of the liberties America offers and a harsh critic of the world’s dictators, including Turkish strongman Recep Erdogan and the Chinese Communist Party. By contrast, most NBA players and teams are unwilling to vocally criticize the Chinese Communist regime or other human rights abusers. “I think they care too much about their jersey sales, their shoe sales, endorsement deals, their next contract with whatever organization or association they’re playing with,” said Kanter Freedom.

It’s striking how athletes and corporations fearlessly hold forth on America’s supposed (and sometimes real) evils but hold their tongues on the blatant evils of foreign governments. The reason is obvious: totalitarian regimes don’t tolerate criticism. China will shut out disobedient companies from their billion-person market. In Russia, those who criticize the government too harshly get “disappeared.” In America, people have constitutionally-protected rights to speak freely, even to criticize government leaders. In America, laws protect civil rights and due process. America is the land of the free.

I’ve never been inside a Russian prison, but I can’t imagine it’s very pleasant. It’s unlikely Griner would rather languish in a Russian cell than return to the U.S. In many states, the 10 years she faces behind bars under Russian law is a crime that wouldn’t even come with jail time, or would allow her to post bail. At the very least, in the U.S., she would enjoy a right to a speedy trial, which doesn’t seem to be the case in Russia.

Criticizing America is a sort of hobby for some spoiled U.S. celebrities. But in trying to tear the nation down, they effectively prove what a great place it is to live. They criticize the land they call home, but they are free to do so. That isn’t the case in many parts of the world.

Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.