Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley made waves on Friday afternoon. In an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show,” Barkley discussed the tension between the PGA Tour and the players who left to join the Saudi backed LIV Tour. All of this while the third major of the season, the U.S. Open, was being played. Barkley wants to see chaos, and LIV Tour players winning majors as that would add to the drama. He also joked he would kill a member of his family for the reported signing bonuses some LIV players received. Barkley was making light of a situation that’s no laughing matter.
“I want all the LIV guys on top of the leaderboard,” said Barkley. “I want to see the PGA Tour shaking in their damn boots. Listen, I’m not a religious dude, but I want chaos this weekend at the U.S. Open. I don’t judge other people. Listen, if somebody gave me 200 million dollars, I’d kill a relative. I’m serious. They’re saying Phil Mickelson got $200 million and Dustin Johnson got $150 million. Hey, for $150 million, I’ll kill a relative. Even one I like.”
ALRIGHT CHUCK 😂😂😂#PMSLive pic.twitter.com/XvozzrcVBu
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) June 17, 2022
For those that don’t know the LIV is an upstart golf tour backed by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Australian golfer, two-time major champion and CEO of LIV Golf Investments Greg Norman runs the tour.
You might be asking yourself why is Saudi Arabia interested in golf and why is that nation’s sovereign wealth fund supporting a golf tour.
This is sportwashing.
Sportwashing (or, also, sportswashing) is a term coined by Amnesty International in 2018. Journalist Karim Zidan, a leader in reporting on sportwashing, described it in The Guardian in 2019 as “authoritarian regimes using sports to manipulate their international image and wash away their human rights record.”
Barkley’s position that $150 million-$200 million is a lot of money is indisputable. In a capitalist economy it is rare to turn down that type of money. While Barkley jokes he would kill a family member to get that kind of money, that joke is in extremely poor taste.
Saudi Arabia is a country whose government has come under fire for various human rights violations domestically and abroad, including the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The $600 billion in assets under management in the sovereign wealth fund are in some part from a regime that commits illegal and heinous activities.
Barkley also said “I don’t judge people.” In a vacuum that’s all well and good. “Judge not, that ye be not judged” and all, but we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a connected communal society.
If Barkley doesn’t want to judge the players for taking the big paydays from the Saudis that just reveals who he is as a person and what he values, and the power of sportswashing.
Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi royal family, and all other world oligarchs also hope you don’t judge. They want you to be distracted by sports and whatever new shiny object they flash in front of your face under the guise of sports, so that they can continue doing what they’ve always done. Amass and consolidate power to the detriment of the masses.