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China tells U.S. to shut up and dribble

China's condemnation of sports-related protests draws from American officials' playbook.

Chinese officials are fuming over President Joe Biden's decision this week to stage a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

The United States won’t send any government officials to the February games to protest “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday called the boycott “contrary to the Olympic Charter Principle that sports should maintain political neutrality.” He vowed China would respond with “resolute countermeasures” but offered no details.

“The U.S. will pay for its wrongdoing," Zhao said. "You can wait and see."

President Joe Biden meets virtually with President Xi Jinping of China at the White House on Nov. 15.Doug Mills/New York Times / Redux

It seems the U.S., where athletes protesting injustice have frequently been met with calls to “shut up and dribble,” is getting a taste of its own medicine.

We’re only four years removed from then-President Donald Trump denouncing protesting athletes as “sons of b------” and calling on them to be fired for their activism. Yet, some of the conservatives who joined Trump in his condemnation then are now suddenly seeing the sports arena as a proper venue for political statements

I’ve been consistent in my support for athletes using their platforms to protest, so I’m not disagreeing in this case — I’m just wondering aloud when these politicians found their religion?

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for example, has been one of the most acerbic voices condemning professional and U.S. Olympic athletes for using their platforms to protest human rights abuses. But now Cotton is calling for all American athletes to boycott the games to protest such abuses in China. 

This hypocrisy isn't Biden's cross to bear personally, but as heir to an office and leader of a nation known to persecute activists engaging in sports-based protests, his argument for why one is necessary now is a complicated one to make on the international stage.

Unsurprisingly, many people are more encouraging of athletes’ activism when the targets of the protests are foreign officials and not white American ones.

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