Turner Sports NBA analyst and Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said that sports leagues and players have turned racial injustice issues into a “circus,” and warned that fans could be turned off by too much politics in sports.
Barkley, speaking in a phone interview on CNBC, said players are placing more importance on kneeling and messages on their jerseys rather than important change.
He echoed criticisms raised by fellow analyst Jay Williams of ESPN, who mentioned that players who are complaining about food and their accommodations in Orlando for the NBA restart are “tone deaf” to what’s happening to regular people in the pandemic and its resulting economic crisis.
Barkley, always an outspoken personality in his playing days and during his broadcasting career, was blunt in his assessment of the current sports climate.
“What’s happening now is we’re turning into a circus,” Barkley said Friday in a guest appearance on CNBC. “Instead of talking about racial equality, racial justice and economic justice, we spend all our time worrying about who’s kneeling and not kneeling, what things are being said on buses, what’s being said on jerseys. I think we’re missing the point.
“We need police reform, prison reform. Those are No. 1 and No. 2 things to focus on. We need the cops, good cops out there policing bad cops. … When we spend time focusing on what’s on the jersey, that’s gonna defeat purpose. My concern is this is turning into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff.”
Barkley took issue with the social justice messages the NBA is allowing players to have on their uniforms for the upcoming revival of the season. Players playing in the Orlando “bubble” can have a choice of 29 message on their jersey, including “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “Equality,” among others.
“We are in a divided country,” Barkley said. “Sports used to be a place where fans could go and get away from reality. Now it’s such a mixture. It’s going to be fascinating watching what happens with the fans. Fans are at a disadvantage, they’re going through the pandemic. They don’t want to see a bunch of rich people talking about stuff all the time. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.
“People lost jobs and the last thing they want to do is turn on the television to hear arguments about stuff all the time. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the public reacts.”