Plenty of people have said it before, but maybe it will have more impact coming from a friend: fellow NBA analyst Kenny Smith has written an open letter urging former NBA star Charles Barkley to stop spouting off about race, and questioning why the media gives his remarks so much weight.
Barkley, now a prominent sports commentator, has a lot of strong personal opinions and theories about the experiences of black people in America, and while his old-school views are not particularly groundbreaking or original or fact-based, his comments get blasted on TV and in print every time he makes them.
Recently, we've been treated to quotes such as this: "There are a lot of black people who are unintelligent, who don't have success [who think] it's best to knock a successful black person down if they're intelligent, they speak well, they do well in school, and they're successful." Or his his unfounded declaration that beating children is an inherently southern, black cultural practice. Or his defense of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson Missouri Police officer who killed Michael Brown, and his accompanying speculation that predominantly black neighborhoods would be "the wild west" without police.
This is reminiscent of the way Bill Cosby —a man who was really great at comedy but had no particular credentials or expertise when it came to race — used to make headlines with his rants about how black people were awful at parenting and were making Jesus unhappy by sagging their pants. The recent wave of new sexual assault allegations against him have likely ended that phase of his life once and for all. But Barkley is going strong, despite the fact that, as the Washington Post's Nia Malika Henderson has pointed out, "nearly everything he says is wrong."
That is, unless he listens to his TNT colleague, Smith. In the (very cordial and delicately worded) open letter published by USA Today's For The Win, Smith strongly encourages Barkley to continue having opinions, but to stop living under the illusion that the world needs to hear them or should value them. Here's the best part:
"However, 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."
You can read the full letter here.
Barkley's already said "I ain't shutting up and I ain't backing down," so it's unlikely he'll take Smith's advice. But maybe the letter will at least remind Americans not to listen to his theories about black people any more than they listen to civil rights leaders' theories about basketball.