Future historians may look back 200 years from now and target October 2021 as the time when comedian Dave Chappelle and pro basketball player Enes Kanter saved American free speech, freedom of thought and freedom of expression from extinction.
After years of political correctness, cancel culture and downright suppression of conservative free speech, Chappelle, a well-known comedian with a history of controversy; and Kanter, a Turkish-born Boston Celtics basketball player who has taken on the presidents of Turkey and China and now Nike, slammed massive flaming spears in the ground for free speech when almost every academic, business and political leader couldn’t, wouldn’t, hasn’t or didn’t.
Chappelle’s special, which even the president of Netflix Ted Sarandos tried to walk back from by saying he probably made mistakes in how he handled the controversy, was designed to end a running battle Chapelle has had with the transgender community for years.
Chappelle ended a very thoughtful and organized presentation, if you can mute his many vulgarities, of which you are now forewarned, with a final closing argument which was a profound and touching plea for understanding and freedom of expression after relating a story about what happened to a transgender friend of his who was a comedian.
Comedians have long enjoyed special protection under the First Amendment to say what many people want to say and think are true but are afraid to say out loud in public. Mark Twain did it. So did Will Rogers.
In doing so, Chappelle underscored the fact that no one has to agree with anything he or anyone else says. The great thing for Americans is they have the freedom, and many times the obligation, to say why people like Chappelle are wrong and say why with facts, eloquence and, hopefully, some humor.
Free speech in statement and in rebuttal is what makes Americans “American” in the first place.
Former Congressman Alex McMillan, with whom I worked for a decade in Washington, used to say that he wished certain politicians on the opposite side would use more of their right to free speech, not less. “The more they speak, the more foolish they look. As more people see how ridiculous their policies really are, we might not have to say a word to rebut them.”
Kanter has spoken out forcefully against oppression by Turkish authorities — he called President Erdogan “the Hitler of our century” — and has been targeted for extradition by his opponents in Turkey. He put his career and the fortunes of the Boston Celtics and the NBA on the line when he called Chinese President Xi Jinping “a brutal dictator” and tweeted out his concerns that the communist Chinese authorities are repressive towards the people of Tibet, which they are, and the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan as well.
The Chinese authorities promptly banned Celtics games from being televised in China this year. To their credit, Celtics president Brad Stevens issued a statement in full support of Kanter, which was unthinkable a year ago.
Contrast the Celtics response with 2019 when Houston Rockets GM Dale Morey tweeted “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Lakers star LeBron James were shocked anyone would criticize the government of their largest foreign market and put billions of dollars of revenue at risk.
They must not know China is a murderous regime with an abysmal record on human rights.
Not satisfied by taking on two powerful geopolitical leaders, the 6’ 10” giant Kanter called upon footwear giant Nike to stop its “modern day slavery” partnership with China on Monday. Kanter might be Turkish by birth but not only is he a Celt by action, he is a “fighting Irish” by conviction.
The perfect irony in these days of “identity politics” based solely on a person’s skin color or gender would be if a black comedian and a Turkish-born basketball-playing immigrant became known as the two leaders in 2021 who rescued America from losing its freedom, independence and its telos — its essence and purpose.
At least they wouldn’t be “two old white guys who owned slaves in the 18th century” telling us what to do. They are two Americans doing what Americans have always done — telling the truth as they see it and speaking truth to power.