Two of the National Hockey League's biggest stars have just been issued a highly controversial challenge, and I'm certain that it is one that will continue to make headlines as we draw closer and closer to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
Over the weekend National Basketball Association star Enes Freedom, who has been a vocal and outspoken critic on the topic of human rights specifically as it pertains to China, singled out Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid and challenged them to boycott the upcoming games. That is of course a big ask of professional athletes who only get a chance to compete at the Olympics once every 4 years, but as a professional athlete himself Freedom understands how much he is asking of them.
"All the gold medals you can win in the world are not more important than your values, your principles," said Freedom on CBC's Power & Politics. "And I feel like we need to stand up for what's right."
Crosby and McDavid are far from being the first athletes to be targeted by Freedom, who was previously known as Enes Kanter before legally changing his name last week when he officially became an U.S. citizien.
Freedom famously trashed NBA superstar LeBron James for his association with China and dragged his sponsor Nike along for the ride.
He also recently singled out WWE and Hollywood movie star John Cena, after Cena himself was recently involved in a controversy surrounding the ongoing disputes between China and Taiwan.
And just yesterday Freedom shamed fellow NBA star Jeremy Lin for taking what he describes as "Dirty Chinese Communist Party money."
Once again Freedom understands how much he is asking, but his objections to the human rights violations in China clearly are of greater importance to him than earning Olympic glory. When you consider that 266 Canadian MPs voted to declare China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslims a genocide earlier this year, although the majority of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet were absent for that vote, it's not hard to see why Freedom, who is himself Muslim, feels the way he does.
"I understand these athletes are working so hard to get to that level. But sometimes there are bigger things than sports, there are bigger things than basketball or hockey."
Freedom knows that the athletes themselves are not responsible for any of this, including the decision to take the Olympics to China, but he believes they have the power to influence change more than anyone else.
"First of all shame on the International Olympic Committee, they sleep in the same bed with China and they are part of the problem. While we are talking right now there is a genocide happening, so shame on them organizing an Olympic games in a country and a dictatorship like China. It's very disgusting."
Freedom is not alone in his opinions. The Women's Tennis Association has recently pulled all their tournaments in China over the treatment of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Freedom asks how anyone can feel safe after seeing how the Chinese government is willing to treat their own athletes.
"Look at how they are treating their own tennis player, are we really going to trust them with our own players?" asked Freedom.
When Freedom was asked specifically about how two Canadian athletes could be expected to influence China, he gave a powerful response.
"They are obviously some of the most famous players in their sport, in their league and in Canada, but the important thing is there are so many young kids out there idolizing them, so do it for them.... they should not go," said Freedom.