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Enes Kanter is set to receive the second annual Hardwired for Freedom Award, which recognizes the NBA player’s off-the-court advocacy for human rights around the world.
“It is a great honor to receive this award, especially given Hardwired Global’s stature in the human rights community,” Freedom told Fox News Digital.
The Freedom award comes after years of advocating for human rights, a personal mission that has often put him at odds with star players in the NBA and the league. Born in Switzerland to Turkish parents, Freedom grew up in Turkey before moving to the US as a teenager. He was drafted 3rd overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, but soon his career was defined more by what he did off the court.
Born Enes Kanter, Freedom, who changed his last name to Enes Kanter Freedom when he became a US citizen last year, began speaking out against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013. In 2016, he took to Twitter to call out Erdogan for long. The “Hitler of our century” faced accusations of human rights abuses by international observers. His support for a failed coup attempt the same year was disowned by his family, who encouraged him to change his surname.
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The Turkish government issued an arrest warrant for Freedom in 2017 due to 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 fearful of overseas travel, once refusing to take a 2019 tour with the New York Knicks out of fear for his safety.
A 2019 ESPN story illustrated the dangers of Freedom’s exposure, reporting that the FBI had equipped an NBA player with a device that would allow him to alert nearby agents in an emergency due to credible threats to his life.
But the defense of independence is not limited to Turkey. He has expressed support for the Free Tibet Movement on social media and spoke out against Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2021. The move was controversial with the NBA, which in recent years has shied away from speaking out against China for fear it could alienate the league as an important new market.
The Chinese government retaliated by halting streams of all Boston Celtics games, the team Freedom played for 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 Olympics in China over the country’s treatment of Uighurs, which ended in partial success when President Biden announced a diplomatic boycott of the games late last year.
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His advocacy of independence 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 about 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 the money,” Freedom told ESPN at the time. “It’s about morals, principles and values. It’s about what you stand for. There are bigger things than money. If LeBron stops making money now, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren can have a better life.”
Last month, Freedom took aim at James again for his comments about jailed WNBA star Brittney Griner, arguing that James took American freedoms for granted when he argued that Griner did not want to return to the US from Russia.
“It really saddens me and breaks my heart when people take their freedom for granted. So I’m very confused,” Kanter Freedom told “America’s Newsroom” host Bill Hemmer.
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Freedom believes his battles with the NBA and its most recognizable star led to him being cut by the Houston Rockets earlier this year and left without a team, something NBA commissioner Adam Silver has denied.
Tina Ramirez, founder and president of Hardwired, a human rights advocacy organization founded in 2013, said Freedom’s courage at such great personal cost is why she received this year’s Hardwired for Freedom Award.
“Enes Freedom is a tireless advocate for the rights and freedoms of people everywhere,” Ramirez told Fox News Digital. “That’s why he’s an ideal recipient of our 2022 Hardwired for Freedom Award.”
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“I hope receiving this award will bring greater awareness to the plight of oppressed people around the world,” Freedom said.
“While recognizing hard work is of course humbling and gratifying, it also brings more attention to major human rights abuses around the world and the millions of people who suffer abuse on a daily basis,” he told Fox News Digital. “With so many living with oppression around the world, the road ahead is long, but I am optimistic and optimistic that Hardwired Global will continue to resist oppression in all its forms.”