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Enes Kanter Freedom is set to receive the second annual Hardwired for Freedom Award, recognizing the NBA player’s off-the-court advocacy for human rights around the world.
“It is a tremendous honor to receive this award, especially given the standing of Hardwired Global in the Human Rights community,” Freedom told Fox News Digital.
Freedom’s award comes after years of advocacy for human rights, a personal mission that has often left him at odds with the NBA and star players in the league. Freedom grew up in Turkey after being born to Turkish parents in Switzerland, moving to the U.S. when he was a teenager. He was drafted 3rd overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, but soon his career would become defined more by what he did off the court than on it.
Freedom, who was born Enes Kanter but changed his last name to Enes Kanter Freedom when he gained U.S. citizenship last year, began speaking out against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2013. In 2016, he took to Twitter to call Erdoğan, who has long faced accusations of human rights violations from international observers, the “Hitler of our century.” His support for a failed coup attempt that same year resulted in him being disowned by his family, who encouraged him to change his surname.
The Turkish government issued an arrest warrant for Freedom in 2017 because of his membership in the Islamist Hizmet movement, eventually revoking his citizenship later that year when he failed to appear in Turkish courts. The move left him stateless and in fear of traveling overseas, once refusing to take a 2019 trip with the New York Knicks over fears for his safety.
A 2019 ESPN story detailed the perils of Freedom’s outspokenness, reporting that the FBI had outfitted the NBA player with a device that allows him to alert nearby agents in an emergency because of the credible threats to his life.
But Freedom’s advocacy has not been limited to Turkey. He has expressed support for the Free Tibet movement on social media, and in 2021 spoke out against Chinese President Xi Jinping. The move was controversial with the NBA, which in recent years has sidestepped speaking out against China over fears that it could alienate the league from what it sees as an important new market.
The Chinese government retaliated by stopping streams of all Boston Celtics games, the team for which Freedom played at the time, but the move did not cause Freedom to back down from his outspoken approach. He called for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in China over the country’s treatment of Uighurs, a movement that ended in partial success when President Biden announced a diplomatic boycott of the games late last year.
Freedom’s advocacy has put him at odds with the NBA and other outspoken stars. Freedom has long criticized LeBron James, perhaps the NBA’s most recognizable star and one of its most outspoken players. Last year, Freedom offered to sit down with James to “educate” him on the human rights abuses in China.
“I don’t know if he’s educated enough, but I’m here to educate him and I’m here to help him, because it’s not about money,” Freedom told ESPN at the time. “It’s about morals, principles and values. It’s about what you stand for. There are way bigger things than money. If LeBron stopped making money now, his grandkids and grandkids and grandkids can have the best life ever.”
Last month, Freedom took aim at James again for his comments on jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner, arguing that James took America’s freedoms for granted when he argued that Griner may not want to return to the U.S. from Russia.
“It just makes me really sad and breaks my heart when people take their freedom for granted. So that’s why I was like, I was very confused,” Kanter Freedom told “America’s Newsroom” host Bill Hemmer.
Freedom believes his battles with the NBA and its most recognizable star are the reason he was cut by the Houston Rockets earlier this year and left without a team, a claim that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has denied.
Tina Ramirez, founder & president of Hardwired, a human rights advocacy organization founded in 2013, said Freedom’s courage at such high personal cost is the reason he is the recipient of this year’s Hardwired for Freedom Award.
“Enes Freedom has been a tireless advocate for the rights and freedoms of people everywhere,” Ramirez told Fox News Digital. “That is why he is the ideal recipient of our 2022 Hardwired for Freedom Award.”
Freedom said that he hopes his receiving the award will bring greater awareness to the plight of oppressed people around the world.
“While recognition of hard work is of course humbling and gratifying, my hope is that this brings more attention to the major human rights atrocities around the world and the millions of people enduring tyranny on a daily basis,” he told Fox News Digital. “With so many living with oppression across the globe, the road ahead is long, but I am optimistic and looking forward to working alongside Hardwired Global to continue to oppose tyranny in all its forms.”
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