Remarks: Enes Kanter Freedom

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of Enes Kanter Freedom’s remarks upon receiving the Gentleman of Distinction Award, delivered at the 2023 Annual Awards Gala.

Riley Gaines: Oh my gosh. Thank you guys. What an honor to be in a room with like-minded people. That sounds crazy, but that’s often not the rooms that I’m in. So, I couldn’t be more grateful to be here. A couple of people who I want to just shout out who have been instrumental in the work that we have done at IWF and IWV, of course, we have Payton McNabb, who is the volleyball player who was injured in North Carolina due to a male spiking the ball in her face. We have Paula Scanlan who is here, who is teammates with Thomas. Of course, the Roanoke girls who have just been so incredibly brave and unified, which isn’t—we have Ellie, who’s here from the Kappa sorority. What those girls—I spent a lot of time with the Kappa sorority last night in Wyoming, and what those girls have endured for simply wanting their promise of sisterhood fulfilled is criminal, to say the least. They’ve been vilified. They’ve lost out on leadership positions. They’ve lost friends. I mean, the list goes on, and so Ellie’s here, which is awesome. We have Prisha Mosley, who is a detransitioner who is here and it is just incredible. I could, the list could go on. Chaya, I was so glad to meet you. Larry O’Connor, I think you’re kind of funny sometimes. I’m just kidding. Anyways, all that to saym very excited to be here. This conversation, of course we’re here with the Independent Women’s Forum, but the gender ideology movement, it very quickly gets centered around girls and women and children, and we often leave men out of this equation. But let me tell you, men, you’re not out of this equation because one, we need you. We need strong men. Absolutely. And so, before I get started, I want to read what this award is and when you see, which you know who the honoree is, you’ll understand how fitting this is. It says the Gentleman of Distinction Award celebrates a gentleman that is committed to protecting and defending our American ideals and works to create a stronger and healthier society. He also exemplifies a commitment to respect and civil discourse, showing generosity and kindness to critics while remaining steadfast in his beliefs. He’s an advocate for limited government, economic liberty, and personal freedom and promotes equal opportunities for women and men. This past year, really year-and-a-half since I’ve taken that leap of faith and really dedicated my time, my efforts to defending women’s rights, I have been called brave, I have been called courageous, I have people ask me, you know, how do you do it? To which I respond back with “easily. I’m literally just saying men are men, and women are women, and you can’t change.” But I say that to say I think we have this skewed idea of what courage means. I think people equate courage with fearless. No, that’s not what courageous is. Someone who is courageous is someone who understands fear but still follows through with the actions that they know in their heart is right. That’s what courage is. And our next honoree is someone who takes courage and being a fighter to the next level. He has stood up for the cause of freedom and took on a tremendous risk to do so. He has risked jailtime, he has risked his livelihood, he’s risked his life by simply speaking out against the human rights abuses in China and in Turkey. Turkey even put half-a-million-dollar bounty on his head, but that would not keep him quiet. He kept speaking out. He was an amazing basketball player, but knew that what he was doing was bigger than basketball, bigger really than any sport. At a time when there are too few heroes, he has stood out as an example for all of us. I think it’s worth noting that he’s also a Kentucky wildcat, which, let me also add, I have five SEC championships from Kentucky. We’ll let him answer how many he has. Anyways, never has a name freedom been more deserved, nor have we had a more deserving gentleman of distinction, and so I want to thank Enes Kanter Freedom for his dedication to the cause of freedom and for being with us tonight. Thank you.

Enes Kanter Freedom: I appreciate that. Yeah, this is always like a tough one for me. I got zero. She’s the best wildcat I’ve seen. No, she’s definitely my hero. I want to say I’m really honored and humbled to be here. Tonight is a great night, because this award definitely means a lot to me and everyone out here, but I actually would like to dedicate this award to all the women here who stands for what they believe in, even if it means sacrificing everything. This is one. And two, actually, I’ve been watching the news, and I would like to dedicate this award, secondly, to all the, you know, brave women of Iran and Afghanistan who is fighting, you know, tirelessly against the tyranny in their country. Three, I would like to dedicate this award to, you know, the 17,000 actually missing women in my home country, Turkey, who are getting tortured every day, and I’ve been praying for them really hard, and the fourth, last but not least, I would like to dedicate this award to my mother and my sister, which I haven’t seen in almost 10 years. I think I would like to talk about them a little bit because I think it’s—I’m sure everyone watching the news and given what’s happening in the Middle East right now, I think you guys are going to have a better idea what’s going on over there. You know, growing up in Turkey was very difficult. The environment that I was growing up in was very, very toxic, actually. And the problem actually in the Middle East is not the religion, it is the politicians. And I remember growing up, the politicians actually using religion to brainwash people. Whenever they go out there on the rallies, they hold the holy book and said, whatever I’m doing, I’m doing for the name of God. And unfortunately, base is so uneducated, they believe them. So, I remember I was nine years old. I tell this story everywhere actually, because it actually touched my heart. I was nine years old. I went downstairs to play with my friends. And what I have seen that day shocked me so bad I still remember until this day. My little friends, who were not even teenagers, they were burning American flags. They were burning Israeli flags, and they were breaking crosses. And I asked them guys, what are you doing? They said, well, that’s what we’ve seen on TV. So, they gave me a flag to burn it, actually. It was an American flag. They gave me a flag, they gave me a lighter, and they said, “Burn it.” And I got so scared I threw the flag down, and when I went upstairs to my mom, I was like, “Mom, my friends are telling me to hate America. They’re telling me to hate Jewish people, hate Americans, hate Christians. What do I do?” My mom said, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but do not hate anyone before you meet them.” So, that night I give a promise to my mom. I was like “Mom, I promise I’m not going to hate anyone.” So, the growing up, actually, the environment getting was more, more toxic every day. I mean, if you have a friend who lives in Middle East, you guys can ask him, front of schools, sorry, front of classes they have American flags and they have Israeli flags. And if you’re a kid, if you don’t step on these flags, you’re not allowed to attend the class. Think about it. Think about the brainwashing from a young age. It’s not the religion, it’s the politicians. Think about it. Front of classes. You’re a little kid and if you don’t step on those flags, you’re going to get bullied, and you’re not going to be allowed to attend the class. Anyway, so the environment, you know, I was growing up in was getting so toxic my dad said, “Enough is enough. You’re going to America.” And I even remember asking my dad, I was like, “Dad, you literally, you’re going to send me a place where my friends are calling me the, you know, the devil, you know?” And they said, “Yeah, just go there and see it yourself.” I remember, you know, I was 17 years old. I, you know, my flight was about to land, and I remember I was so excited, but at the same time so nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. Because the last 17 years, all I hear about was you guys are the devil. So, my plane landed and I remember my first practice. Two of my American friends, they tried to have a conversation with me. I got so nervous I turned around and left the locker room, because I just didn’t know what to expect. And I remember, you know, I had a—I had this Jewish friend and she invited me over for a Shabbat dinner. And I immediately said, “Of course not, I’m not going to come to someone’s house who is Jewish.” And then I remembered the promise that I gave to my mom, you know, then I called her. I was like, “I’m coming to your house for a Shabbat dinner.” So, before I went to her house, I actually called one of my Turkish friends who lives in America. I was like, if you don’t hear from me for the next two hours, you better call the police. So, I went to her house. It was one of the most amazing night I had. You know, what I realized was that everything was the same, the food, the culture, some of the dances that they do, some of the songs that they listen. It was so safe. But then I was coming back to my place. I got so emotional because there are millions of kids in Middle East, grown up anti-Semitic, grown up anti-West, and anti-American just because of those hate speeches coming from their dictatorship. So, I was like, we got to change that. We got to do whatever we can to change that. So, I literally simply started to organize the basketball camps, and I actually had one in Jerusalem, another one in Vatican. It was so amazing. We brought Muslims, Muslim kids, Jewish kids, and Christian kids together to just play basketball. There was one moment—the clock hit zero, but I’m going to keep talking. There was—so, I had one basketball camp in Jerusalem. We brought Palestinians and Israeli kids together, and I remember there was this one Palestinian girl. She said, “There’s no way I’m going to Israel to play basketball.” Her family was very well-educated. I said, “Well, Dennis is going, you know, just go there and play basketball one hour. If you don’t like it, we will take you back.” She ended up staying for two weeks. And after a week, she apologized from all of her teammates and said, “I just didn’t know enough.” So, I put—on purpose, I put her and another Jewish kid on the same team. I don’t know if you guys know the basketball terms, but so someone shot the ball, missed it. I got the rebound, I give to this Jewish kid. So, this Jewish kid crossed someone over, right, passed to this Palestinian girl, and she scored the ball. When she was coming back and they high-fived each other, and that was the most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen in my life. So, it’s been—I just want to say I don’t want to keep it too long because the clock hit zero, they’re going to just hold my name in a little, but I just want to say thank you guys so much, this definitely means a lot to me. The last 10 years, actually, I pray every night and say, “God, please let me see my family one last time.” Right? “Please let me see my family one last time.” I was just keep asking myself this question why God hasn’t answered my prayers yet. But then I come to this beautiful event, right? People are treating each other like families, people are treating each other like brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter what their background is, what their skin color, or whoever they are, you know, Muslims, Christians and Jews, whoever. And then I realized God has answered my prayers. So, I just want to say you guys are my big family. I want to say thank you guys so much. I love you all. And Riley, thank you so much. You’re an inspiration and thank you, too. Have a great night. Thank you.