Falsely labeling the country of Taiwan as part of China will do little to improve the National Football League’s (NFL) financial prospects in the communist country, state propaganda newspaper Global Times declared on Friday.
The Times was responding to a controversy erupting this week when the NFL announced a series of international partnerships meant to promote the popularity of American football. While football remains America’s most popular sport at home, it has made no significant progress in constructing a global fanbase and, to that end, the NFL announced it had designated special markets for its teams to generate energy behind them.
In the announcement, the NFL published a map showing that it assigned the Los Angeles Rams the entire nation of China as its “international home marketing area.” The map of China, highlighted in red to show it is part of the program, incorrectly including the island of Taiwan. The inclusion was particularly egregious in light of exclusions of legitimate offshore territories of other countries, most prominently Spain.
Taiwan is a sovereign nation; the island has never been ruled by a government operating out of Beijing in its history. The Chinese Communist Party falsely claims, however, that the country is a “province” of China and that its democratically elected federal government is a “secessionist” movement. Dictator Xi Jinping and his henchmen regularly threaten a violent invasion of the island to “reunite” it with a country it has never been part of.
The Global Times applauded the NFL for promoting China’s preferred falsehood but laughed off any attempts at encouraging Chinese people to follow American football.
“The NFL has made some friendly gestures toward China in recent years. In 2020, Chinese player Li Boqiao was included into the list of NFL’s 2020 International Player Pathway Program,” the Global Times narrated. “In April 2020, 1.2 million N95 masks were transported on the New England Patriots’ team plane from South China’s Shenzhen to New York state.”
“Even so, experts say it makes no sense for the NFL to ‘go after Chinese money,’ as the current profit generated in the Chinese market lags behind North America and Europe, with China generally not considered a priority market for the league,” the propaganda outlet noted.
An anonymous “sports commentator” allegedly went as far as to tell the Global Times that the NFL may as well oppose China’s false stance on Taiwan, as Americans are increasingly passionate about rejecting Chinese regime bullying.
“If Americans fans care so much about where Taiwan is on the map, there is no reason for the NFL to offend them by taking care of the Chinese market where they have made little progress,” the alleged commentator said.
The outlet nonetheless applauded the NFL for showing “respect” to the Chinese Communist Party – an institution currently engaging in genocide – by disrespecting Taiwan’s sovereignty. It stopped short of celebrating the NFL in any way, however, instead claiming that the map published this week was vindication for a previous incident ten years ago.
“The NFL has lost the opportunity to host games in China about a decade ago after making a mistake regarding the island of Taiwan on a map,” the anonymous “sports commentator” said. “It is always not wise to offend China on the Taiwan question, whether or not they continue to expand the Chinese market.”
The NFL efforts appear to be an attempt to replicate the success the National Basketball League (NBA) – at the expense of its domestic reputation and human rights record – has had in China.
Unlike football, basketball is one of the most popular sports in China, reaching national fervor during the peak of Chinese player Yao Ming’s career. The NBA is estimated to make as much as $500 million in revenue through business with China, which at one point included the establishment of an abusive “training camp” in Urumqi, the regional capital of the Uyghur region where the Communist Party is committing genocide. The NBA only shut down the Urumqi facility in 2020 after an ESPN exposé revealed extensive abuses at the camp in question, prompting Congressional concern.
The Chinese government has actively encouraged the NBA to lobby Congress and American politicians to promote Chinese interests and to silence players and staffers who hold opinions contrary to those of the Party. The NBA’s failure to prevent then-Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey from expressing mild support for the anti-communist protests in Hong Kong in 2019 reportedly cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. The Chinese regime continues to ban the broadcast of Philadelphia 76ers games – the team Morey now works for – in the country as a response to that incident.
Beijing has also banned the broadcast of Boston Celtics games in response to player Enes Kanter Freedom enthusiastically opposing China’s genocide of the Uyghur people and suppression of Hongkongers, Tibetans, and political dissidents.
While some in the NBA have defied China’s party line, most abstain from commenting and some players have taken to defending Chinese politics. Veteran player LeBron James notably criticized Morey for defending democratic protesters, complaining that he may have jeopardized James’ personal profits. Then-Houston Rockets player James Harden took the liberty of unsolicitedly apologizing on Morey’s behalf.
Retired NBA veteran Stephon Marbury – so popular in China that he boasts a statue and entire museum dedicated to his life – has collaborated with Chinese propagandists to promote the Beijing Winter Olympics, receiving extensive coverage in the Global Times.