In another portion of TNT’s “The Inside Guys” on the opening night of the NBA’s post-COVID return, Mr. Barkley also defended the right of players not to protest the national anthem by kneeling during it as all of those in the first game did.
The NBA let its players ditch their names on the uniforms in favor of a (league-approved) social cause, but Mr. Barkley said Thursday that if he were still playing the game, he would not change his jersey at all.
“I’d probably keep my name on it … there’s a lot of talking going on. But we need some action,” he said, elaborating that players should lobby government officials, vote and encourage voting, and support their causes but he warned of taking too far these symbolic in-game gestures.
Mr. Barkley said the pandemic and the crashed economy has changed the function of sports, and may alter the national reaction to politicking.
“I think it’s a dangerous slippery slope. America is hurting right now. This pandemic is ruining so many lives. These people ain’t got no jobs, they’re not gonna get their jobs back. They got to worry if school is gonna start now,” he said.
“I know this stuff is important and significant. But some of these people are just ‘can I just watch basketball or baseball or hockey?’” he explained.
“You just can’t beat people over the head because people watch sports to get away from reality. And right now, their reality is different. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetime, this pandemic. We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of people, all these small businesses are gone … I’m never gonna say ‘just go back to basketball.’ But I think these guys got to be really careful,” Mr. Barkley said.
In another part of the show, reacting to comments by fellow former all-pro Shaquille O’Neal that athletes have a responsibility to use their platforms, Mr. Barkley cautioned him about political pluralism.
“The thing is, listen, that’s gonna mean different things to different people,” Mr. Barkley replied.
Before the tip-off of the restart’s first game, all the players and coaches from the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, plus the game’s referees, took a knee during the national anthem. They also wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts and took a knee near the “Black Lives Matter” signage that has been painted on the court inside Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
“I’m glad these guys are all unified, but if people don’t kneel, they’re not a bad person,” Mr. Barkley said.
Some pro athletes in other leagues who haven’t taken a knee have “had to” explain themselves on social media and, most notably, Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterback Drew Brees was forced by his New Orleans Saints teammates to back off criticisms he had made of those who had protested the flag and anthem in previous years.
“I want to make that perfectly clear, I’m glad they had unity,” Mr. Barkley said of the NBA players. “But if we have a guy who doesn’t want to kneel because the anthem means something to him, he should not be vilified.”
• Matthew Paras contributed to this report.
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