The World Wrestling Entertainment just taught the NBA a Brock Lesnar-sized lesson in identity.
The fallout from a seven-word tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey proved disastrous for the NBA, and yet it opened eyes about the true mission of a sport that has since tried and failed miserably at straddling the line between an ocean of cultural differences.
We know this now more than ever: Whether it be a social media post about supporting those in Hong Kong protesting against a communist regime or continuing to do business with a nation which promotes a systematic discrimination against women, the pursuit of profit yet again wins out over the principles of human rights.
The only color that matters is green.
Those in the WWE don’t in any manner run from this, having on Friday at T-Mobile Arena announced a major event heading to the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Oct. 31.
It will be a fourth such pay-per-view show since April of 2018 in a land where restrictions on women defines them as second-class-citizens whose basic rights are minimized to conditional freedoms.
Put it this way: A Saudi woman would not have been allowed to attend Friday’s announcement without her male guardian, who holds the same sort of legal power over her that a parent would their child.
“We’re an entertainment company and we can’t dictate to the world how it (should act),” said Paul Levesque, better known as the wrestler Triple H, the WWE’s executive vice president of Talent, Live Events and Creative. “When we go over there, we have millions of fans. They’re very into what we do. It’s massive. This is just another opportunity to go to one of our biggest fan bases and put on a show. That’s how we look at it.”
As what this is. Business.
The problem arises when we want sports to be something more, something virtuous. They’re not. We want the truth until we hear it, and in cowering to China following Morey’s tweet, the league was no better or worse than Nike or Pepsi or any other global business concerned most with a market that’s worth $4 billion to the NBA.
We’re built on the ideals of democracy and yet we’re really not.
We’re mostly built on the bricks of capitalism, a country whose massive gap between rich and poor grows daily in its socioeconomic segregation.
So while you might find it reprehensible that the WWE would strike a deal with and pander to a nation that treats women in such despicable ways and whose crown prince allegedly ordered the brutal murder of a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist last year, it’s more than not the reality of what we are as a nation.
At day’s end, maximize your profits and make as much as you can.
Playing both sides
I’m not sure the NBA knows what it is, or at least won’t admit it. Is it an American league? An international league? A sport? A business? A champion of free speech? Just another multinational corporation bowing to the almighty dollar?
Its muddled and sloppy way of handling the Morey tweet, trying to play both sides of the issue and just ending up apologizing for different miscues while doing so, couldn’t have painted the league in a worse light.
We knew of everyone else’s intentions this week. The WWE is headed back to Saudi Arabia because of the millions of dollars available from a kingdom with a blank check at its ready.
Saudi Arabia views sports as a way to integrate itself into a more mainstream audience while offering the impression it is moving away from fixed societal restraints and human rights abuses.
The NBA? It was exposed for clumsily trying to avoid a truth that is universally known: That this is business, and American companies so incredibly dependent on the Chinese market must look the other way when to comes to such a structure of suppression or risk losing vast international dollars.
What a week. The WWE taught the NBA an important lesson: Be who you are, because you’re not fooling anyone.
Who’s fake now?
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.