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Former professional basketball player Charles Barkley called out the sports world for creating a “circus” with the wrong attention to racial justice issues.
The NBA Hall of Famer spoke with CNBC about how the players and the sports leagues have warped the issues by politicizing and focusing on the wrong things instead of on making positive changes.
“I think what’s happening now is we turned it into a circus,” Barkley told CNBC’s Power Lunch on Friday, responding to whether he thought there was “too much politics in sports.”
“We’re going to spend all our time, instead of talking about racial equality and racial justice and economic justice, we spend all our time worried about who’s kneeling and who’s not kneeling” and what message is written on players’ jerseys, he added.
“I think we’re missing the point,” Barkley continued.
“We need police reform, we need prison reform,” the former 76ers, Suns and Rockets star said. “We need the cops. We need the good cops out there policing the bad cops.”
Barkley noted that the media has also played a part in creating the “circus” and needs to be more responsible.
“The media, you know, we all got a job to do. They’re gonna spend all they’re time on what’s on somebody’s jersey, and what’s on the buses and who’s kneeling and who’s not kneeling, and that’s going to defeat the purpose,” he said.
“My concern is turning this into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff,” he added, going on to lament how sports has strayed from being an entertaining escape for fans.
Noting the current division in the country with racial tensions high and weeks of civil unrest across major U.S. cities, Barkley pointed out that “sports used to be a place where fans could go get away from reality.”
While NBA players will reportedly be allowed to wear jerseys featuring social justice-related messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” and more players have begun to kneel during the national anthem, Barkley wondered about the reaction of fans weary of the coronavirus pandemic. He contended that “they don’t want to see a bunch of rich people” endlessly going on about the controversial issues.
“The last thing they want to do is turn on the television and hear arguments all the time. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the public reacts,” he said.
Barkley, who was in Nevada playing in the American Century’s celebrity championship golf tournament, had spoken about the health crisis with COVID-19 as he discussed his optimism of the NBA’s relaunch plan as 22-teams arrived in Florida to compete, currently in a quarantine “bubble” in Orlando.
“I think you’d have to be foolish to think we could go that whole three months without getting positive tests, but I think we are all flying in the dark right now and I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen,” the 11-time NBA All-Star told CNBC.
He also weighed in on sending children back into classrooms in the near future.
“You’d have to be a fool to think your kids will be safe in school right now,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s fair to put those kids in that situation before we have the vaccine,” he said, but admitted he is worried that the virus will “magnify” the “disparity” between the rich and the poor in the nation.
“A lot of kids who are at home don’t have access to the internet. That really makes the gap between the rich and poor even more so. This is a critical time in our country,” he added.
“This is a very crucial time in our country,” Barkley said. “I just hope we get some adults who know what they are doing and stop screwing around and dividing our country.”
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