Black Athletes Are Speaking Up, Just Not The Ones We Want To Hear From

At one time, the United States of America was vehemently opposed to discussing anything concerning race in America. Flash forward to the present and we find that everyone has an opinion about race. Back in 2008, President Barack Obama stated that his election heralded a new Post Racial era in America. However, the recent string of racially charged incidents, highlighted by the killing of unarmed African American males Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the subsequent clearing of police officers responsible for their deaths in decisions announced within days of one another, we see the farce of post racialiciousness for exactly what it is. But certain individuals who once had very little to say about race and class in America are now more likely than ever to speak on race as a whole, and their opinions are being sought more frequently by media outlets.

Black athletes were once held in high regard not only for their acumen on the field of play but also for their stance on social issues as well.  The voice of reason for on issues of race and class in America could be heard coming from the likes of Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the great Muhammad Ali. However, up until fairly recently, the American sports landscape has been largely devoid of a credible voice to speak openly and intelligently on such issues outside of sports. The increased public notoriety and monetary wealth of the athlete of color appeared to be at the expense of his freedom of speech and social conscientiousness.

But recently we have witnessed an increase in current and former professional athletes speaking their minds on matters that pertain to the African American experience in America. Yet with the increased discourse also comes the possibility for increased departures from viewpoints some would deem conducive to communicating the nuances of the Black America to the general population. Last week, as scores of people of color were filmed looting business in Ferguson following the announcement that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the death of Mike Brown, Jr, the nation was once again embroiled in a debate over the upbringing and sensibilities of the poorest, most vulnerable Black people and how that upbringing reflects on others of the same race and class. 

Though discourse is essential to the American experiment, there are times when we all wish certain people would just shut the heck up. Case in point, Charles Barkley. Always known to say some outlandish things while appearing as a member of the NBA on TNT team, Sir Charles is also a go to guy for conservative minded individuals wishing to find a Black face to parrot their neo-Antebellum views. As the entire media firestorm surrounding the Ferguson decision began to mushroom across the globe, The Shadow League knew it was only a matter of time before Charles Barkley was offered an opportunity to express his opinion on race and class, an opinion that often aligns with that of the status quo. Here’s what he had to say about the Ferguson Grand Jury decision.

"I'm not saying who's right or wrong. I'm just hearing the true story that came out of the grand jury investigation. I know I'm black, but I'm going to try to always be honest and fair. We have to be really careful with the cop, man, because if it wasn't for the cops, we'd be living in the wild, wild west in our neighborhoods. I think we can't pick out certain incidents that don't go our way and act like the cops are all bad. I hate when we do that, because, think about it, if you know how bad some of these neighborhoods would be if it wasn't for the cops — listen, and, first of all, it's always great to play Monday morning quarterback. Like, he shot him a lot like — well, if you've got a gun and you fighting with somebody, you're not going to shoot them once, you're going to pull the trigger "x" amount of times." 

The immediate reaction for this writer was to sit down and write another pointed letter to Charles Barkley, as was the case when we took him to task for his apparent belief that African Americans are the only people who suffer through a celebration of stupidity as citizens of the 11th smartest country in the world. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. Fellow NBA Insider commentator and NBA champion Kenny “The Jet” Smith wrote an open letter in response to Chuck’s CNN interview. Here's a portion of the letter.


….what I consistently find interesting is how writers and media members view your insights in politics, and now race relations, with the same reverence as your insights in sports.

They did it in the Trayvon Martin trial and now with Mike Brown and the decision in Ferguson. It’s not that you shouldn’t ever have an opinion, but you are often quoted alongside the likes of Al Sharpton and even President Obama. I would hope that Sharpton or President Obama would never be referenced with you when picking the next NBA Champs!

The body of work that our Black Civil Rights leaders put in by planning, executing and activating does not justify you being in the conversation. While your body of work on the court very few compare to nor should be mentioned when you are giving your expert analysis.


The dichotomy between the opposing points of view from two individuals who made millions in the NBA and continue living as rich Black men in America is telling. Though Charles Barkley is clearly the more famous of the two, the manner in which his opinion is feverishly sought out to speak on manners of race, class and society is interesting in that his particular brand of punditry is very valuable to members of the elite who wish to minimize the position of their more progressive thinking opposition by presenting a successful African American with viewpoints that are contrary to those of many of his ilk. For example, he agreed with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, he agreed with the Grand Jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson and he agreed that with the Staten Island Grand Jury that decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Some might consider him a brave man who speaks contrary to what is expected of him, while others would see him as a tool of the establishment and, dare I say, a house negro.

While he may not say the things that we want him to say, and that’s quite often, he is speaking his mind. That’s something that those who have made a living as pro athletes have done very little of for the better part of three decades. In his open letter to Barkley, Smith stated that he felt Chuck should stay in his lane and stick to basketball.

But The Shadow League would beg to differ.

People have been wanting athletes to speak their minds on issues of race and class for decades, but because Barkley’s point of view doesn’t fit ours then that desire for discourse from athletes becomes null? Can’t have it both ways. Though we may disagree with just about every one of his viewpoints outside of basketball, expressing counter viewpoints are a tremendous part of the democratic experiment.

Though many may wish that LeBron James or Kobe Bryant would suddenly take up the legacy of Jim Brown, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that won’t happen. However, it would be refreshing to see major media outlets, who normally turn to Barkley with slow pitch questions, challenge some of his outlandish assertions and provide equal billing to someone like Time magazine guest columnist Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a person whose viewpoints as illustrated in his column are more left-leaning than Ol’ Chuck. But that’s probably too much to ask for.

So until then, every time Charles Barkley says something stupid, we will be here to call him out.