Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan says that all Americans have the right to speak out on social causes in America. But he is not so sure that applies to American sports executives commenting on political issues in other countries.
Khan was asked on stage at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in New York on Thursday what the NBA should do about its current political crisis in China, after Houston Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protesters, angering the NBA’s business partners in China.
“As an American investor/owner, I went through something very similar in Catalan, Spain,” Khan said, referencing the Catalan independence movement that reached a boiling point in 2017. “And I didn’t think, as an American, I should really be having an opinion on it, even though a lot of people wanted us to. I want to have an opinion in America, there’s a civic duty to engage and do the right thing, but having an opinion on sovereign matters in other countries, it’s for those people to decide.” (Flex-N-Gate has seven plants in Spain, four of them in Catalonia.)
Applying his point specifically to China, Khan made his view more clear: “I have a factory in China,” he said. “And there are thousands of other people who have factories and operations in China, and they do very well. But you have to respect the norms.”
Khan used the same general point to discuss the Colin Kaepernick-led player protests in the NFL from two years ago.
“I think players, and every human being, has a right to speak what their opinion is,” he said. “There’s no issue as far as that goes, whether it’s NFL or anybody else. We are American citizens, we have a social, civic responsibility to be active in causes we believe in. But do we have that same responsibility to opine on sovereign matters in other countries? That’s the critical issue.”
Khan, who also owns the English soccer team Fulham F.C., added that his company Flex-N-Gate tries to avoid fraught political issues. And the NFL, it is no secret, seeks to do the same.
“Whether you’re a sports team or you’re an auto parts factory, a key tenet of why you exist is to do good,” Khan said. “And we are active, obviously, in every market we are in, but looking, really, for areas that are non-controversial or non-divisive. So what does that mean? For a football club like the Jaguars in London, or Fulham, we focus on youth health, for example, youth education, and programs for the less fortunate… non-controversial, where everybody really supports those initiatives. That’s been our approach.”
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.