The Golden State Warriors tried to quickly distance themselves from tech billionaire Chamat Palihapitiya’s inflammatory remarks about the Uyghur genocide, but the team was criticized for a “cowardly” response that critics say shows their fear of upsetting the Chinese government.
Palihapitiya, a Palo Alto venture capitalist who reportedly owns a 10% stake in the Warriors, said on Saturday’s podcast, “Let’s be honest, no one cares what happens to the Uyghurs, okay?” He said that people’s concern about their oppression was a “deplorable” sign of virtue, and even questioned the exaggeration of reports of human rights violations.
In response, the press service of the Warriors published short statement in one sentence on Monday, it only stated that Palihapitiya “has no day-to-day operational functions” with the team. The Warriors stated that therefore he “does not speak for our franchise, and his views certainly do not represent those of our organization.”
But the team has since been called out for not being more forceful in denouncing Palihapitiya’s remarks. The US government said the Chinese government had committed genocide against the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority living in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, the Washington Post reported. Scholars estimate that more than 1 million Uyghurs were imprisoned in re-education camps, where they were reportedly subjected to rape, sterilization and slave labor.
It seemed to critics that the warriors were trying to avoid controversy by not mentioning the name of the Uyghurs and not explaining exactly where they disagreed with what Palihapitiya said. But the controversy still flared up. Raymond Ridder, senior vice president of communications for the Warriors, said the team would have no further comment.
“Say Uighurs”, pronounced some on twitter. Others also questioned why the Warriors avoid talking about China in their statement. They said it’s clear that the Warriors, like any NBA team, are wary of financial repercussions from China, their most important international market.
Quartz contributor Jane Lee wrote that the Warriors’ response “is a reminder of the extent of China’s influence on the human rights debate even beyond its borders.” San Francisco entrepreneur Zack Celius said on Twitter that the Warriors’ statement was “pathetic” and “cowardly”.
The New York Post added that human rights in China has become “the third topic for the NBA”. The NBA’s reputation in China was dealt a costly blow in the 2019-20 season when then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Maury tweeted support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. His tweet drew criticism from across the league, including from LeBron James, who was in China with the Lakers at the time. It also led to Beijing’s state television pulling some NBA games off their channels.
The Warriors’ statement was certainly tame compared to the heated tweet from Enes Kanter Freedom. The Boston Celtics Center is openly critical of China’s human rights abuses. He tweeted a clip from Palihapitiya’s podcast comments and says, “When @NBA says we stand for justice, don’t forget there are those who sell their souls for money and business, like @chamath, the owner of @warriors. … When genocide happens, these are the people who let it happen. A shame!”
When @NBA says we stand for justice, don’t forget that there are those who sell their souls for money and business, like @chamat owner @warriors,
who says: “No one cares what happens to the Uyghurs”
When genocide happens, it’s the people
how is it that let it happen
— Enes Kanter FREEDOM (@EnesFreedom) January 17, 2022
Even as the Warriors tried to distance themselves from Palihapitiya, his remarks continued to be associated with the team and the NBA, drawing widespread condemnation from human rights leaders, academics, politicians, and pundits from across the political spectrum. Podcast host Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council spokesman under President Obama, denounced the billionaire’s “what about” and “ignorance.”
The White House said it “rejects” Palihapitiya’s comments, while former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted tthat the Warriors and the NBA should do better “if the @NBA truly stands for justice.” Ahmed Mitchell, National Deputy Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said: “It is shameless that a corporate leader and owner of the NBA should so coldly dismiss the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims.”
On Monday, as the controversy intensified, Palihapitiya, a Sri Lankan-born Canadian-American, posted twitter statement, “clarification” of his comments. He did not apologize for what he said, but admitted that he lacked empathy.
“As a refugee, my family fled the country with their own set of human rights issues, so this is something that is very much part of my life experience,” he wrote. To be clear, I believe that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or anywhere else. Full stop.”
Palihapitiya’s comments came during Saturday’s edition of the All-In tech podcast, as he and other co-hosts led a broader discussion about presidential politics and the country’s role in international affairs.
Co-host Jason Calacanis praised the Biden administration for speaking out against China’s human rights abuses. In December, the president signed into law a law banning imports from the Xinjiang region, NBC reports. The White House also announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
But after Palihapitiya said that “no one cares what happens to the Uyghurs,” he added: “I think it’s good that you care – the rest don’t care. I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things I care about, it’s below my line.”
During the discussion, Palihapitiya suggested that the United States prioritize its own human rights issues. He also questioned whether China was a dictatorship and said that concern for human rights around the world was a “luxury”. According to Newsweek, he used a popular argument used by Beijing that the United States is hypocritical in pointing out China’s poor human rights record given its own shortcomings.
According to Newsweek, Palihapitiya also showed ignorance of the American and international backlash, saying that the United States and other governments and international organizations were largely “silent” on the issue.
In fact, the United Nations has been seeking access to China to conduct an independent assessment, while the 27-member European Union has joined Washington in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials who are allegedly responsible for abuses against Uyghurs. , according to Newsweek.
Palihapitiya, a former Facebook manager, is now the CEO of Social Capital, an investment company whose mission is to move humanity forward by solving the world’s toughest problems. He is also chairman of space tourism company Virgin Galactic. According to The Washington Post and ESPN, Palihapitiya joined the Warriors’ ownership group in 2011, about a year after Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team for $450 million.