Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote to the commissioner of the NBA on Thursday, demanding answers over the organization’s relationship to a basketball training camp in the Xinjiang region in China -- and accusing the organization of having misled lawmakers.
In the letter, dated Thursday, the senators say “it is our understanding that the NBA has not been forthcoming with members of the Senate regarding questions surrounding the NBA’s relationship with the Xinjiang basketball academy."
“If true, this is unacceptable,” they say.
Blackburn had written to the NBA earlier this year asking about the basketball camp in the Xinjiang region, where there is widespread persecution of ethnic minorities, particularly the Uyghur Muslims.
The NBA responded, saying: “The NBA has had no involvement with the Xinjiang basketball academy for more than a year, and the relationship has been terminated.”
But in an ESPN report published last month, two sources disputed that the NBA had any plans to leave Xinjiang in the spring of 2019, with one saying the league was looking for other coaches to move there in the summer and that the statement to Blackburn was "completely inaccurate."
The ESPN report also detailed how participants were beaten and not provided proper schooling and that academies appeared to be largely under the control of the Chinese government, with one coach who worked for the program calling it "a sweat camp for athletes."
"We were basically working for the Chinese government," one former coach told ESPN.
Multiple NBA employees filed complaints with the league about how they witnessed Chinese coaches "strike teenage players" and the lack of education the young participants were receiving.
In a statement to Fox News last week, Mark Tatum, the NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, said the league ended its involvement with the basketball academy in Xinjiang in June 2019 and that it is "re-evaluating the NBA Academy program in China," calling the allegations from ESPN's report "disturbing."
"We launched this not-for-profit elite player development initiative in 2016 by working to support three existing basketball development centers in China operated by local sports authorities. Our role was limited to providing three coaches at each academy, none of whom have been alleged to have engaged in any wrongdoing,” Tatum added.
Blackburn and Rubio want the NBA to identify the date on which the organization severed the relationship with the basketball academy and provide documents to prove it.
They also ask if there is a culture of physical discipline being “an integral part of training” and how cases of physical abuse are handled, and how oversight and reporting are conducted at the organization.
“As an American organization who claims to hold integrity and respect as part of its core values, we urge the NBA to take a stand against the horrific abuses by the Chinese Government and Communist Party,” the senators said. “Their actions are an affront to human dignity and universal values. History will not judge kindly those who remained silent or were complicit in the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses.”