Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo, has extended an invitation to sit down with ESPN CEO James Pitaro amid the fiery clash that erupted on Friday with the sports network’s NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski.
Hawley’s office sent a press release detailing a letter he planned to send NBA commissioner Adam Silver, criticizing the league’s decision to limit messages players can wear on their uniforms to “pre-approved, social justice slogans” while “censoring support” for law enforcement and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.
Hawley wrote in the letter to Silver that the league’s “free expression appears to stop at the edge of your corporate sponsors’ sensibilities.”
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Wojnarowski, who is arguably ESPN’s most prominent reporter and breaks so much NBA news on Twitter that his messages have been dubbed “Woj Bombs,” apparently didn’t appreciate Hawley’s message.
“F–k you,” Wojnarowski responded, according to Hawley.
“Don’t criticize #China or express support for law enforcement to @espn. It makes them real mad,” Hawley tweeted with an apparent screenshot of the response.
Wojnarowski issued an apology to the senator and ESPN issued a statement addressing the matter.
“I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake. I am sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly,” he wrote. “I also need to apologize to my ESPN colleagues because I know my actions were unacceptable and should not reflect on any of them.”
“This is completely unacceptable behavior and we do not condone it,” the statement read. “It is inexcusable for anyone working for ESPN to respond in a way Adrian did to Senator Hawley. We are addressing it directly with Adrian and specifics of those conversations will remain internal.”
Hawley responded to ESPN’s statement, telling the network that he doesn’t want an apology from Wojnarowski.
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“Don’t make @wojespn apologize. He’s just saying what he really thinks. Call out the @NBA. You know, your job,” Hawley tweeted.
The senator later revealed that “lobbyists” from ESPN and Disney have been trying to reach him, but made clear that he only wanted to speak with the network’s top boss.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook with lobbyists from @espn, from @Disney, the works,” Hawley wrote. “Let’s make this simple. I’m inviting ESPN CEO Jimmy Pitaro to Washington. My office. Let’s sit down and discuss ESPN, #China, the @NBA. Look forward to his response.”
ESPN did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
The NBA came under fire last year after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted pro-Hong Kong rhetoric just ahead of the league’s China series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. The league felt the immediate backlash.
Morey posted subsequent tweets to try and stop the bleeding while Rockets star James Harden apologized for the tweet. But to no avail.
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China began to crack down on the NBA almost immediately as Chinese sportswear brands either suspended or severed ties with the Rockets. The Communist government also blacked out broadcasts of the league’s preseason games in the country and canceled NBA Cares events and media availabilities ahead of the exhibition games between the Lakers and Nets.
Silver stood in support of Morey’s right to free speech but said he regretted the outcome. Players remained silent while on mainland China, as did the league’s most vocal critics of President Trump, opting to either “learn more” about the situation — or take more shots at the White House.
Critics of the NBA’s uniform policy questioned if the NBA would allow messages supporting Hong Kong protesters.
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According to The Undefeated, the list of phrases allowed on NBA uniforms include: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
Hawley asked the NBA commissioner to answer five questions: Whether the NBA will censor pro-military or pro-police statements; whether it’s true that phrases approved for display on jerseys don’t include messages in support of victims of the Chinese Communist Party; whether the NBA will censor any message showing support for victims of the Chinese Community Party; how the league plans to defend players who speak out against China; and whether the league will condemn China for trying to silence players.
Fox News’ Brian Flood and Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report.