U.S. Hypocrisy: How Can the United States Question North Korea’s Violation of Human Rights, But Then Denounce the Human Rights of Dennis Rodman, Charles Smith and Other NBA Players!

ATLANTA – My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty!
Freedom was a word that was once leaned on as the great attraction of the United States of America. Recently, freedom has lost its teeth as a word that we, as Americans, could unite around and has become more of a dividing post in an increasingly political landscape. Many recent events are prime examples the blurred lines of freedom.

Most recently, Dennis Rodman, Charles D. Smith and several other former NBA players were criticized for their participation in an exhibition game played against a North Korea senior basketball team, supported in part by Kim Jong-Un, the reviled leader of a country repeatedly criticized for alleged violations of human rights.

While Rodman has called Kim Jong-Un a “friend”, Smith repeatedly made it clear that the trip was meant for goodwill between people of different backgrounds and an attempt to use basketball to bring together two countries in a cultural exchange.

Nevertheless, the NBA has criticized the group, the state department has denounced the visit and the game has been taken from the hardwood court, to a political firestorm that has everyone in an uproar.

Many are upset that Kim Jong-Un’s administration will not release American Kenneth Bae. He has been held since November 3, 2013 and was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for what some feels has not been clearly explained as a violation of North Korean law.

While the players are upset that an intent to do something good has turned into a political attack that has nothing to do with their mission. The players have even been blasted by their own NBA Retired Players Association. But should they be criticized? Should their actions be denounced and ridiculed? Or is Rodman, Smith, ex-NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson and Vin Baker free to travel to North Korea and connect people through sports, namely, the game of basketball?

One of the caveats: the citizens must use a state-run tour system and are rarely allowed to stray from a strict itinerary. Smith, Rodman & Co. have followed such guidelines.
And, it is sad that a league which has grown into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate on the backs and talents of these players, would object to that basic constitutional right and human right to travel aboard.

This is no Jane Fonda visit of many decades ago during a time when a nation was at war or killing thousands (and losing thousands of lives) in Vietnam. The math or firestorm doesn’t really add up with this Rodman visit. However, this sequence of events does seem to fit right into the current theme of freedom in America: preach it when it benefits you, but trash it when it harms you!
While some Americans have chosen to trash Rodman directly and those nine players who supported him like Smith, indirectly, I would ask, is that not the same close-minded thinking that we accuse North Korea of dictating to its people?

The goal of the trip was to connect people through a common sports just as we do with the Olympics every four years. The players did not show up earlier this week with any political intentions or to create a political disaster. Rather, they are on the same mission that NBA Commissioner David Stern has once tried to establish and has done with numerous European countries hosting NBA exhibition games and actual NBA regular season games in globalizing the sport.

Sadly, these players are being crucified for exercising their freedom, a once passionate ideal of the American community. The fact of the matter is, Dennis Rodman’s trip and player exhibition game to North Korea should be non-story.

This whole trip that involves former NBA players shouldn’t get more than five minutes of our time.
Why? Because these men have decided to take a trip to a country in order to play a basketball game. That’s it. This is about mere men, exercising their freedom, and playing an international game of basketball, something as Smith repeatedly told CNN, “it’s what we do…and something we love.”
So why is this a major issue? Is it because of the hypocrisy of many Americans’ outlook on freedom? Who knows!

However, it is likely because freedom, as I mentioned before, is no longer one of the great ideals of American society. There is no longer simple enjoyment of the many freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy. Rather, freedom has become a concept that people abuse or hide behind when convenient.As disappointing as this may be, this is often the price you pay for such great ideals.

There will always be people who will punish the boundaries of great ideals, i.e., using our American freedom and liberty to go overseas and utilize an old sport of throwing a ball through a hoop to unite with a nation of millions. (The basketball game was sold out by the way at over 14,000, full capacity, but that got lost in the politics of the day). With his crazy antics during his playing days, Rodman was a prime example of someone who was pushing the envelope. Those of use who remember the tenacious defender would just brush it off as “Dennis being Dennis.”

However, because of the ever-changing landscape, somehow Dennis has now “gone too far.”
Somehow this exercise of freedom, was just too much. Is it because we don’t agree with it? Is it because North Korea is a volatile topic? Who knows!

Only Rodman and the group of players know their individual motives for traveling thousands of miles on foreign soil to play a basketball game. They could have a hidden agenda?
These questions, and more, can be debated until the end of time. But the one thing that is lost in all of this, the one thing that is trampled on for no apparent reason, is freedom.
Freedom to travel overseas and play a basketball game!!!

James L. Walker, Jr. is an author an attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. He has represented a number of artists and pro-athletes. If you have any comments you can find him @jameslwalkeresq or email him directly to [email protected]