John Carlos and Kenny Smith may well have never even met, but each were united this week in reaching out to fellow athlete Charles Barkley about some of his demons he now appears to becoming face to face with.
Sir Charles managed to make himself the talk of the nation this week by deflecting attention away from the Mike Brown fiasco in Ferguson and the equally chaotic scene now playing out in New York City stemming from a grand jury’s equally outlandish decision not to indict any of the officers implicated in the videotaped killing of Eric Garner.
In Carlos and Smith’s mind, the how and the why of it all seems to escape Barkley’s irascible reasoning in the same way The Round Mound of Rebound proved himself capable of a clearing a lane on his way to arguably being crowned the best power forward to ever play the game.
But at times, real life and sports competitions can seem like too different universes, particularly at a time and place in history when young black men all around the country are dying at heart-wrenchingly alarming rates at the hands of those who would be their protectors.
Still, Barkley felt compelled this week to attack the community of victims opposed to addressing the many conditions that, at least partly, bore their circumstances in branding all those who dared to protest and some even riot in the suburban St. Louis town as “scumbags.”
And if that wasn’t selective perception enough, Barkley went on to deem all cops “awesome.” He later added of the Mike Brown case “three or four witnesses, who were black, said exactly what the cop said. We have to be really careful with cops, because if it wasn’t for cops we would be living in the Wild, Wild West in our neighborhoods.”
Forget about the fact that as many as three times as many witnesses as Barkley cited are rumored to have testified in the Ferguson case to a scene far different from the one apparently laid out by prosecutors before the grand jury, or that in the Gardner case panelists were actually presented with visual evidence of cops violating all protocol in their deadly confrontation with Gardner, the truth of the matter is that none of this is nearly as black and white as Barkley seems to try to paint it.
“He’s just looking for votes down the line,” Carlos said of the man who in times past has spoken of perhaps someday running for office as a Republican. “If you don’t have anything good to say, you should keep your mouth shut. I don’t know where Mr. Barkley gets his reports. He’s a basketball commentator. It’s not like he’s in the legal field. He shouldn’t be saying derogatory things.”
Still, saying and doing can be two vastly different things, and that seems the vantage point from which Smith is reaching out to Barkley.
“Why is there so much distrust in the police and legal system from the African American community,” he asked his TNT co-worker in an open letter. “When someone is in struggle, they are living with a lack of educational facilities, high unemployment and poor recreational facilities. They can overcome it, challenge it, live in it, or fall victim to it. Those of us who are decades removed from ‘the struggle’ because of our life through sports or business, we now have to have to acknowledge that every option listed exists. If not, then we are the ignorant ones.”
Even with that, Charles Barkley rages on. “Those [expletives] who are looting aren’t real black people, those are scumbags,” he said. “There’s a perception amongst some black people that if you you’re not a thug or a hood rat, you don’t wear your pants down by your [expletive] you’re not black enough. And they’re always holding us back, plain and simple. And I ain’t shutting up and I ain’t backing own.”
What Charles Barkley needs to understand is part of taking a stance, at least an educated one, includes being willing to listen to others and maybe even learn from them.
Much like Carlos and Tommie Smith were with the raised, gloved fist approach they took in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympics, the people of Ferguson and all across the country are now crying out for help. Help that won’t come by simply remaining silent and being reticent.
And no, uneven rants like those Charles Barkley emanated this week won’t do much to improve the landscape.