With the NBA returning at the end of July, there are questions about how players will address social justice issues. There is a particular focus on jersey messages available to wear, but analyst Charles Barkley said that the players are more worried about kneeling or messages than they are on real change. He said that the league and the players are turning the situation into "a circus."
The former NBA player spoke about the ongoing issues during a phone interview with CNBC. He said that players are placing too much importance on the public displays and that "we're missing the point." This remark followed similar comments by ESPN analyst Jay Williams, who called NBA players tone-deaf for their complaints about food and accommodations. Williams wanted the players to think about the minimum wage workers struggling to make ends meet.
"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, 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 [the] purpose. My concern is this is turning into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff."
As Barkley continued to explain, there is a scenario in which fans react negatively to the social justice messages on jerseys, especially in the middle of a pandemic. He said that they use sports to escape from reality. "They don't want to see a bunch of rich people talking about stuff all the time," Barkley said.
Barkley's comments sparked a large number of responses on social media from both sides of the debate. Several said that the former NBA player "gets it" with his comments about using sports as an escape. Others, however, said that Barkley is a clown and that social justice is not a political issue.
Several fans have expressed their dissatisfaction with "political" messages in F1, NASCAR, the NBA and other leagues around the world following rules changes and demonstrations. Many have expressed an intention to boycott all sports that allow these messages. A mass exodus hasn't happened just yet, but Barkley expressed interest in the fan reactions when they turn on the NBA games.