The NY Knicks will be travelling to London in a few weeks for a game against the Washington Wizards. But center Enes Kanter has announced he won’t be joining them. Kanter, who is Turkish and a frequent critic of Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he is worried about his safety if he leaves the United States. This may seem surprising, but it shouldn’t; Erdogan has launched a campaign of repression against his critics, both in Turkey and around the world. Kanter has every reason to be concerned.
At first, this decision may seem a bit dramatic, like something out of a spy novel. A basketball star travels to a foreign country and is kidnapped or killed by his repressive home government? Some may believe the Turkish government’s rebuttal that Kanter is really having visa issues (which Kanter denies). Others, may see this as primarily a political statement, as the New York Times seemed to suggest:
It was a dramatic escalation of his longstanding criticism of Erdogan and a reflection of the way Kanter has been determined to use his fame as an athlete for political activism he considers crucial and dire.
But anyone who’s been following Turkish politics over the past few years should believe a threat to Kanter’s safety is credible.