NFL Owner Dodges on China Protests: ‘You Have to Respect the Norms’

‘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…’

(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) A billionaire investor and NFL franchise owner said U.S. sports figures should focus on criticizing their own country but not others.

Shad Khan—who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, as well as a British soccer team—weighed in Thursday on the NBA’s caving to Chinese pressure not to condemn its violent suppression of Hong Kong protests.

“I think players, and every human being, has a right to speak what their opinion is,” Khan said at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit, according to Fox Business.

“There’s no issue as far as that goes, whether it’s NFL or anybody else,” he continued. “We are American citizens, we have a social, civic responsibility to be active in causes we believe in.”

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However, he added, it was different when those in the U.S. were called to condemn global affairs.

“Do we have that same responsibility to opine on sovereign matters in other countries?,” he asked. “That’s the critical issue.”

Khan, who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan at age 16, lived a rags-to-riches tale after founding the auto-manufacture franchise Flex-N-Gate and designing the first one-piece bumper. His estimated worth is more than $7 billion.

Still, the freedoms and opportunities he benefited from are not for everyone, Khan said.

“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.”

He said he was previously pressed as a businessman with seven Flex-N-Gate plants in Spain to take a stance on clashes in the Catalan region (where four of the plants are located) over independence.

“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,” Khan said.

One thing that likely informed Khan’s current position was the fact that he also has Chinese business interests.

Undoubtedly, he preferred not to get sucked into the same boondoggle as those in the basketball league, where the backlash has taken a heavy toll on its developing market.

“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.”

The NFL has faced its own share of controversies on the domestic front in recent years over players asserting their right to kneel during the national anthem.

Many encouraged it to heed the NBA’s model by putting its business interests first and pressuring players to keep their political opinions private—or at least find an appropriate off-the-field forum for them.

After facing political and financial blowback from offended fans, the football league nominally sought to rein in the players’ on-field demonstrations but later backpedaled.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was criticized for statements that he would continue to force his players to comply with team policy to stand during the anthem.

Another team owner, the Miami Dolphins’ Stephen M. Ross, was met with boycotts of his businesses afteranthem-kneeling wide-receiver Kenny Stills condemned him on Twitter for hosting a fundraiser in support of President Donald Trump.

Stills was traded shortly thereafter to the Houston Texans.