Charles Barkley: Activism in Sports is 'Turning into a Circus'


Charles Barkley is never one to shy away from making a polarizing comment, and the Basketball Hall of Famer recently provided one on the social activism going on within sports.

Barkley, appearing on CNBC on Friday, worried that there was more focus on which athletes were kneeling or wearing messages on their jerseys instead of trying to enact real change.

“What’s happening now is we’re turning into a circus,” Barkley said. “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, we need prison reform. Those are No. 1 and No. 2 things to focus on. We need the cops. We need the good cops out their policing bad cops. … [The media] is going to spend time focusing on what’s on the jersey, and that’s gonna defeat the purpose. My concern is this is turning into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff.”

The NBA recently approved several different social justice messages players will be permitted to put on their jerseys, but not everyone plans to participate, such as LeBron James – one of the biggest voices for social activism and change in sports.

Barkley is not quite sure that fans want to see that right now.

“Obviously, we are in a divided country and sports used to be a place where fans could get away from reality and now it’s such a mixture,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fascinating watching what happens with the fans. … They’re going through the pandemic, and they don’t want to see a bunch of rich people talk about stuff all the time. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.

“These people have lost their jobs, struggling financially, they’re not going to get their job back and the last thing they want to do is turn on their television and hear arguments about stuff all the time. It’s going to be interesting how the public reacts.”

Barkley, an analyst for NBA on TNT, also raised skepticism of the restart bubble in Orlando, but acknowledged the league is in uncharted territory with a lot of money at stake.

“I think you’d have to be foolish to think we could go that whole three months without getting positive tests,” he said. “But we are all flying in the dark right now and I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen.”

As for whether or not it is the right decision to play, Barkley said, “If the season is cancelled, they’re going to lose $2 billion the next year. That’s a lot of money for these players … and they can put it back in their community. So I think that’s the main reason to play.”

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