It’s not just a simple basketball player. An athlete like any other who is focused on his athletic performance. Enes Kanter is much more than that. He is an activist. Aware of geopolitical issues. And eager, above all, to take advantage of his platform as a high-level athlete to share his ideas and fight against social injustices of all kinds.
If the militant movement Black Lives Matter has shown that many athletes do not limit themselves to their careers on the green rectangles or on the floors, Enes Kanter falls into yet another category. Like Mohamed Ali and Tommie Smith in the 60s and 70s or even Megan Rapinoe and Marcus Rashford more recently, he is one of those who raise his voice. And are not afraid to take strong positions. Even, in some cases, to provoke in order to get things done.
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China and Nike in his sights, after Erdogan
Excellent basketball player with golden hands for his size (2m08) even if he has guilty flaws in defense, Enes Kanter has been more and more talked about for his societal fights than for his performances on the slats for a few years now. And in recent days, the Celtics pivot has ignited the powder by attacking the Chinese president. “Dear brutal dictator Xi Jinping and the Chinese government. Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people ! “Kanter wrote on social media.”I stand alongside my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their calls for Freedom.“
This is called throwing a paving stone in the pond. As is often the case, China was quick to react. Celtics matches are no longer broadcast in the Middle Kingdom. Kanter was targeted on Chinese social networks. And the NBA is left with a new diplomatic crisis to deal with, two years after a first episode following a message from Daryl Morey – Houston GM at the time – in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. But these are not the kinds of details that will silence Enes Kanter. It is even quite the opposite.
A few days later, he put it back by asking the Chinese government to “stop the genocide” against the Uighur people before also targeting the equipment manufacturer Nike. “In the United States, Nike stands up against injustice, but when it comes to China, Nike remains silent. You don’t talk about police brutality in China, you don’t talk about discrimination against the LGBT community, you don’t say a word about the oppression of minorities in China. You are too afraid to speak“, he launched in a video on his social networks with the hashtags #NikeHypocrite and # PutEndAuForceForceDesOuigours.
I am fortunate to have a public forum to express my opinions
Enes Kanter is like that. When a cause finds favor in his eyes, he doesn’t have his tongue in his pocket. Highlighted for his strong positions against his Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or during the demonstrations against the police violence following the death of George Floyd, the Turkish indeed has an atypical vision of his status as a sportsman. “I am fortunate to have a public forum to express my opinions, and I never forget the responsibility that comes with it“, he confided in his column to Boston Globe. “We are people before we are athletes. (…) We need to draw media attention to these issues, educate communities and urge people to vote for change. And that’s exactly why I can’t just play basketball and mind my own business. This is my real life. I know freedom doesn’t come for free“.
He is even in a good position to know it. A supporter of the movement founded by the preacher Fethullah Gülen – Sworn enemy of Erdogan – Kanter is the subject of several arrest warrants issued by Turkey. “It’s weird and crazy at the same time, the Turkish government is afraid of a basketball player“Kanter told the 2019 Washington Post. “However, I am not a politician, it is not my job, but everyone is so afraid of Erdogan that I have to take my responsibilities and defend freedom and human rights. It shows that Turkey is a dictatorship“Targeted by the government of his country of origin, his media struggle and his strong positions force him to a life of concessions.
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These constraints are now part of his daily life. He fully assumes them. And now even goes even further with its attacks on China. Because the defense of human rights comes before his personal case. “This struggle has taken everything away from me. But I am determined to continue (…) This fight for social justice, freedom and human rights goes beyond my commitment and what I can give back to the community as an athlete“, explains Enes Kanter, an athlete clearly like no other.
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