The Corner

National Security & Defense

How the Reaction to Kevin Durant Explains Our Conflicted Feelings About Free Trade

In some ways, sports fans’ hyperbolic reaction to professional athletes’ free agency decisions mirrors the country’s perspective on free trade: we love having freedom of choice for ourselves, but we don’t like other people having those same choices.

We like having the ability to change jobs and take a better offer or move to better working environment if we can find one. Fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder have every reason to feel heartbroken by Kevin Durant’s decision, but ultimately, he alone can decide what is in his best interest. (He appears to think it’s a lot easier to win a championship by playing alongside Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors than by playing against them.)

Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock, two sports commentators who moved from ESPN to Fox Sports 1, ripped Durant for his decision to change employers.

We like being able to move from one employer to another, to purchase different brands, or shop at different stores. But when a company decides to start using a foreign supplier, or start manufacturing products overseas, it is seen as a national betrayal of those who benefited from the previous arrangements.

The NBA is actually a good example of the net benefits of free trade – that overall, more people benefit, even if some individuals end up losing out. The league undoubtedly offers a better product thanks to the skills and talents of foreign-born players like Dikembe Mutombo, Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Vlade Divac, and many others. But all of those foreign-born players took away a roster spot from a native-born basketball player; there are those who argue that foreign-born athletes hurt American sports by denying opportunities to native-born aspiring players.

“Baseball owners are doing the same thing that big corporations do – bring in foreign labor to take jobs that should go to Americans,” declared Phyllis Schlafly in February. “American baseball players are better, as the awards and Hall of Fame prove, but perhaps baseball owners think that foreign players are cheaper and easier to control.” (Venezuelan-born Miguel Cabrera’s $248 million, 8-year contract with the Detroit Tigers must represent the most expensive “cheap foreign labor” of all time.)

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