Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Catholic Church of Professional Sports?

I prefer to get my sports news from the CBS site, but kudos to ESPN for reporting about widespread abuse of youths at the NBA's "training academies" in China.

[By the way: I have had repeated difficulty posting the ESPN link as part of the story. So I had to just post it as text right below.]

And the story is not perfect: it treads the line of cultural relativism, walking close to making excuses. But fortunately, it walks away from that.

What ESPN found was ugly, and known at very high levels:
The program, launched in 2016, is part of the NBA's strategy to develop local players in a basketball-obsessed market that has made NBA China a $5 billion enterprise. Most of the former employees spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared damaging their chances for future employment. NBA officials asked current and former employees not to speak with ESPN for this story. In an email to one former coach, a public relations official added: "Please don't mention that you have been advised by the NBA not to respond."

One American coach who worked for the NBA in China described the project as "a sweat camp for athletes."

At least two coaches left their positions in response to what they believed was mistreatment of young players.

One requested and received a transfer after watching Chinese coaches strike teenage players, three sources told ESPN. Another American coach left before the end of his contract because he found the lack of education in the academies unconscionable: "I couldn't continue to show up every day, looking at these kids and knowing they would end up being taxi drivers," he said.

Not long after the academies opened, multiple coaches complained about the physical abuse and lack of schooling to Greg Stolt, the league's vice president for international operations for NBA China, and to other league officials in China, the sources said. It was unclear whether the information was passed on to NBA officials in New York, they said. The NBA declined to make Stolt available for comment.

Two of the former NBA employees separately told ESPN that coaches at the academies regularly speculated about whether Silver had been informed about the problems. "I said, 'If [Silver] shows up, we're all fired immediately,'" one of the coaches said.

Tatum said the NBA received "a handful" of complaints that Chinese coaches had mistreated young players and immediately informed local authorities that the league had "zero tolerance" for behavior that was "antithetical to our values." Tatum said the incidents were not reported at the time to league officials in New York, including himself or Silver.

"I will tell you that the health and wellness of academy athletes and everyone who participates in our program is of the utmost priority," Tatum said.

Tatum identified four separate incidents, though he said only one was formally reported in writing by an NBA employee. On three of the occasions, the coaches reported witnessing or hearing about physical abuse. The fourth incident involved a player who suffered from heat exhaustion.

"We did everything that we could, given the limited oversight we had," Tatum said.

Three sources who worked for the NBA in China told ESPN the physical abuse by Chinese coaches was much more prevalent than the incidents Tatum identified.

The refusal of the NBA to let the coaches speak tells you all you need to know. And it also tells us that the odds NBA HQ in New York knew nothing about this are too low to be meaningfully calculated.

But by all means--please lecture the rest of us about justice when you operated child-abusing basketball factories. It's worked really well for the imploding ecclesiastical institution I am counted as a member of.

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