Dennis Rodman, former NBA star and recent international provocateur, exploded at a CNN host on Tuesday morning when speaking about his most recent trip to North Korea, implying that an American held prisoner is guilty of whatever crimes the North Korean government says he commited.
Rodman is on his fourth trip to the DPRK since last spring when he developed a surprising friendship with the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un. Since then, Rodman has sung the praises of Kim in media interviews, while ignoring overtures to speak out about the human rights abuses currently ongoing within the Hermit Kingdom. On Tuesday, CNN host Chris Cuomo asked Rodman and the other former NBA stars assembled whether they would speak to Kim about the imprisonment of American citizen Kenneth Bae. Rodman did not take the question well.
“The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand — if you understand what Kenneth Bae did,” Rodman started, waving off former New York Knicks player Charles D. Smith who had been serving as spokesman for the group. “Do you understand what he did? In this country?” When Cuomo asked for Rodman to clarify precisely what crime Bae had commit — which the North Korean government has yet to do — Rodman instead chose to speak about the important cultural diplomacy he and his fellows were undertaking.
“I would love to speak on this,” Rodman yelled. “You’ve got ten guys here — ten guys here, that have left their families — left their damn families to help this country as a sports venture. You got all these guys here. Does anyone understand that?”
When Cuomo tried to turn the line of conversation back to Bae, the former Chicago Bull exploded. “I don’t give a [expletive]!” he shouted. “I don’t give a rats ass what the hell you think! I’m saying to you look at these guys! Look at them! They came here!”
Watch the full confrontation here:
“Don’t use these guys as a shield,” Cuomo insisted, before Rodman reclaimed the floor. “You’re a guy behind a mic right now, we’re the guys here doing one thing,” Rodman said. “We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse that we’re going to take?”
Abuse is precisely what Bae’s family believes is happening to the since his imprisonment in November 2012. The tour guide, who was reportedly also proselytizing during his time in North Korea, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor, which is taking a toll on his well-being. “His health is deteriorating consistently,” Bae’s friend Bobby Lee said in an interview conducted in September. “He has an enlarged heart and diabetes, eye troubles and back issues, and they’re being exasperated from working hard labor all day … On top of all of this, the mental stress that’s coming from the hard labor is undeniable. The isolation takes a toll.”
Rodman promised in August to help free Bae, before reversing course after arriving in Pyongyang in September for his second visit. “Guess what? That’s not my job to ask about Bae,” Rodman said to the press after his return at the time. Bae’s family and friends have slammed Rodman for not fulfilling his promise and the way he “folded like a cheap tent” before Kim. North Korea had at one point seemed willing to allow the visit of the U.S.’ Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues to discuss Bae’s case last August, but rescinded the offer just days before Amb. Robert King was set to arrive.
Rodman yesterday insisted that the game he had arranged between former U.S. stars and North Korean players would benefit a North Korean charity for the deaf. While Rodman did meet with the North Korean-based Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled (KFPD), it is unclear still just what proceeds the game would raise, taking place within a Stalinist economy, nor how the funds would be distributed.
The former All-Star continued to declare even at the end of the interview that the cultural exchange taking place was important. “One day, this door is going to open because these guys here,” he said, listing off the names of the players with him. “If we can just open the door just a little bit for people to come here and do one thing–,” he said before trailing off and letting Smith reclaim the spokesperson role. “We’ve said numerous times that we’re not here for any political aspects,” Smith said. “We’re not here to talk politics. So outside of that, any questions that come back through that is baiting to get us into politics.”