Charles Barkley: NBA's Social Justice Campaign Is 'Missing the Point'

“Instead of talking about racial equality…we spend all our time worrying about who’s kneeling and not kneeling,” basketball analyst says

Former NBA star and TNT analyst Charles Barkley criticized the league for focusing too much on the optics of supporting Black Lives Matter and racial justice protesters.

“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, Barkley said in a phone interview with CNBC‘s Power Lunch on Friday. “I think we’re missing the point.”

Barkley said that any public message the league or its players takes as the season is scheduled to resume this month  in a COVID-19 bubble in Orlando should keep police and prison reform at their core. The NBA is allowing players to replace their names on their jerseys with messages like “Equality” and “I Can’t Breathe.”

“When we spend time focusing on what’s on the jersey, that’s gonna defeat the purpose,” Barkley warned. “My concern is this is turning into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff.”

Barkley also said he wonders how the fans will react.

“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,” he says. “People lost jobs and the last thing they want to do is turn on the television to hear arguments about stuff all the time.”

Players for 22 NBA teams have been steadily arriving at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, where the league hopes to finish their 2019-20 season after it was suspended at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. The teams will play in a bubble environment at the resort’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex with all players, staff, and hotel employees receiving regular tests. Games are set to resume on July 30, with the NBA Finals set to take place in early October.

Since George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota in May and subsequent protests around the world, city councils in various American cities have made moves to reduce police budgets and increase oversight of police and their use of force. The Los Angeles City Council has made a $150 million cut to LAPD’s budget while a veto-proof majority of the Seattle City Council pledged to cut their city’s police budget in half this weekend.

MLB and NBA Players Who Have Opted Out of 2020 Seasons Over COVID-19 Concerns (Photos)

  • The NBA is set to resume its season, and MLB is ready to (finally) throw its first pitch this year, but not everyone will play over concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Buster Posey

    The six-time All Star catcher with the San Francisco Giants opted out of the 2020 season after he and his wife planned to adopt two identical twin girls who were, a journalist for The Athletic reported.

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  • David Price

    David Price, a pitcher formerly for the Boston Red Sox who this season was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, opted out of the season on July 4 out of the interest of the his health and his family’s.

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  • Ian Desmond

    Ian Desmond, an outfielder for the Colorado Rockies, opted out in part because of his pregnant wife and four young children. It was reported that he’d be sacrificing $5.55 million in pro-rated salary for 2020.

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  • Ryan Zimmerman

    Ryan Zimmerman, the 35-year-old first baseman for the World Series champs Washington Nationals, clarified that he would not be retiring by opting out this season. He forfeited $740,000 of pro-rated salary.

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  • Nick Markakis

    Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis opted out of the 2020 season after seeing his teammate Freddie Freeman contract the coronavirus and be sidelined with symptoms of COVID-19. “Just hearing him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough,” Markakis said in a press conference. “It was kind of eye-opening. With everything that’s going on, not just with baseball but all over the world, it makes you open your eyes.”

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  • Mike Leake

    Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake, 32, became the first known MLB player to opt out of the 2020 season on June 29. He was scheduled to make $16 million in a full season and is a free agent in 2021.

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  • Felix Hernandez

    Felix Hernandez, a longtime pitcher and All Star for the Seattle Mariners, opted out of the 2020 season on July 4. He signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves this season and was competing for a rotation spot.

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  • Joe Ross and Tyson Ross

    Joe Ross, 27, and Tyson Ross, 33, two brothers and MLB pitchers for the Washington Nationals and a free agent respectively, both signed out of the 2020 season.

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  • Michael Kopech

    Michael Kopech, 24, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, announced on July 10 through the team’s general manager that he would be sitting out the 2020 season. Kopech was recovering from Tommy John surgery that kept him sidelined in 2019.

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  • Willie Cauley-Stein

    Cauley-Stein opted out on June 25 because he and his partner are expecting a baby in July.

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  • Spencer Dinwiddie

    Dinwiddie is one of the few players that won’t be playing due to a positive COVID-19 test. On July 7 the Nets’ doctors advised Dinwiddie he should not play out of an abundance of caution. 

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  • Avery Bradley

    Bradley, a vocal critic of the NBA’s restart taking attention away from the nationwide social justice movement, opted out on June 23 in order to remain with his wife and three children.

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  • Wilson Chandler

    Chandler opted out on June 28 so he could remain with his family and grandmother.

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  • Thabo Sefalosha

    Sefalosha opted out on July 1, though a specific reason was not given. He had previously expressed concerns over playing in the bubble amid the pandemic. 

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  • DeAndre Jordan

    Like his teammate Dinwiddie, Jordan also will sit out the rest of the 2020 campaign after revealing he tested positive for the disease. 

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  • Victor Oladipo

    The Indiana Pacers star had just come back from a ruptured quad tendon before the shutdown. He cited the uncertainty of the Orlando bubble as part of his reason for opting out. 

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  • Trevor Ariza

    Ariza opted out June 22 in order to commit to a one-month visitation window with his young son. Families are not allowed inside the NBA bubble until the end of August.

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Both set to pick up play later this month

The NBA is set to resume its season, and MLB is ready to (finally) throw its first pitch this year, but not everyone will play over concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.

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