NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley broke with much of the black community in a recent interview, in which he praised the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown Jr. and called looters “scumbags.”
The outspoken former player weighed in on the case in an interview last week on Philadelphia’s 97.5 Fanatic radio station. “The true story came out from the grand jury testimony,” Barkley said. He went on to say that the forensic evidence and testimony of eyewitnesses, including several African-Americans, was enough to convince him justice was served.
“We have to be really careful with the cops man, because if it wasn’t for the cops, we would be living in the wild, Wild West in our neighborhoods,” he added. “We can’t pick out certain incidentals that don’t go our way and act like the cops are all bad.”
Barkley also singled out those who rioted and looted following the grand jury’s decision as “scumbags.” “There is no excuse for people to be out there burning down people’s businesses, burning down police cars,” he said.
The basketball legend’s remarks are reminiscent of his reaction following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. “I feel sorry [Trayvon Martin] got killed but [the prosecution] didn’t have enough evidence to charge [Zimmerman],” Barkley said at the time. “Something clearly went wrong that night. Clearly something went wrong and I feel bad for anybody that loses a kid.”
Barkley continued: “I don’t like when race gets out in the media. I don’t think media has a pure heart, as I call it. Very few people have a pure heart when it comes to race. Racism is wrong in any form, a lot of black people are racist, too.”
In his 97.5 Fanatic interview, Barkley sounded a similar note. “They don’t jump to conclusions when black people kill each other,” he said.
The current NBA analyst’s remarks immediately received a warm reception from conservative commentators, with some describing the reaction as “refreshingly honest” and “awesome.” He raised the specter of black-on-black crime, a popular meme on the right. Still, Barkley’s life as a pundit on the periphery of politics is not necessarily black and white.
During the height of his NBA career, Barkley made waves by declaring himself a proud black Republican. He even frequently flirted with the idea of mounting a GOP campaign for governor of Alabama, his birthplace and the site of his college alma mater Auburn, after he retired from basketball.
By 2006, Barkley began to walk back comments on his party status. “What I’ve said is I’m rich like a Republican. But I’m not one,” Barkley said at the Southern Regional Conference of the National School Boards Association. He added that he was still “serious” about running for governor someday — although he joked in a subsequent interview with the Associated Press that he wouldn’t be able to run until at least 2010 or 2014 because “they don’t let many black people in the governor’s mansion in Alabama, unless they are cleaning.”
During the tail end of the George W. Bush presidency, Barkley changed his tune and said publicly that he was officially switching parties to become a Democrat. “I was a Republican until they lost their minds,” he said at the time. And in 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama. He also won praise from progressives and LGBT community for being one of the most vocal supporters of openly gay athletes.
“First of all, every player has played with gay guys,” Barkley told The Washington Post in 2011. “It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: ‘Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.’ First of all, quit telling me what I think. I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play. Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin’ idiot. I would even say the same thing in college. Every college player, every pro player in any sport has probably played with a gay person.”
That same year Barkley declared that he was abandoning his political ambitions during an impromptu interview with the gossip site TMZ.
In the ’90s, Barkley famously said in a popular commercial: “I am not a role model.” And being unpredictable and confrontational has been a big part of his brand for decades, so many may take his recent remarks with a grain of salt. As far as the former NBA player is concerned, he is just tired of race debates on the airwaves.
“I can’t believe anything I hear on television anymore,” Barkley told the 97.5 Fanatic hosts. “That’s why I don’t like talking about race issues with the media, because they love this stuff.”