A sign company refused to allow a billboard campaign sponsored by a watchdog group that would have criticized NBA player LeBron James over his refusal to speak out against China’s human rights abuses.
The National Legal and Policy Center said it was ready to spend “several hundred thousand dollars” on the billboards during the NBA finals.
The advertisement would have shown James with a Chinese flag covering his mouth and the message, “Silence is Violence,” and would have been displayed near the entrance to the NBA “bubble” in Orlando, Fla.
But the company that owns the billboards, Outfront Media, told the group that they would not allow the ad with James’s image on it, according to an email obtained by the New York Post.
“We cannot accept the ad as it is right now,” a representative for Outfront told NLPC, saying the company would only put up the billboards if the NLPC agreed to remove James’s image. “The Chinese flag is Ok, and the silence is violence is ok,” he said.
NLPC refused to change the advertisement’s image, arguing that “some messages are too important to be suppressed.”
“When it comes to human rights in China, silence is indeed violence. We should be able to call LeBron on his hypocrisy without this censorship,” Peter Flaherty, chairman of the NLPC, told the Post.
NLPC said it did attempt to create a different version of the advertisement, but those were met with silence from Output Media.
“They just stopped returning our calls and emails,” said Tim Cramer, an executive with Operations at Mosaic, the firm that created the ads. “They thought that we were singling him out and were afraid that the ad would hurt LeBron’s feelings. But we were never going after LeBron James the person. We were going after his brand.”
James has been famously silent about China’s human rights abuses, but he did criticize Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey last year for tweeting support for the Hong Kong protests.
“It’s utterly amazing LeBron James can buy a $36-million Beverly Hills mansion from a bubble designed to cut him off from the outside world yet he can’t find a way to champion basic human rights for all people, including those suffering under the Communist regime of China,” said NLPC’s Tom Anderson.