Former NBA star and TNT analyst Charles Barkley criticized the league for focusing too much on the optics of supporting Black Lives Matter and racial justice protesters.
“Instead of talking about racial equality, racial justice and economic justice, we spend all our time worrying about who’s kneeling and not kneeling, what things are being said on buses, what’s being said on jerseys, Barkley said in a phone interview with CNBC‘s Power Lunch on Friday. “I think we’re missing the point.”
Barkley said that any public message the league or its players takes as the season is scheduled to resume this month in a COVID-19 bubble in Orlando should keep police and prison reform at their core. The NBA is allowing players to replace their names on their jerseys with messages like “Equality” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
“When we spend time focusing on what’s on the jersey, that’s gonna defeat the purpose,” Barkley warned. “My concern is this is turning into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff.”
Barkley also said he wonders how the fans will react.
“Fans are at a disadvantage, they’re going through the pandemic. They don’t want to see a bunch of rich people talking about stuff all the time. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer,” he says. “People lost jobs and the last thing they want to do is turn on the television to hear arguments about stuff all the time.”
Players for 22 NBA teams have been steadily arriving at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, where the league hopes to finish their 2019-20 season after it was suspended at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. The teams will play in a bubble environment at the resort’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex with all players, staff, and hotel employees receiving regular tests. Games are set to resume on July 30, with the NBA Finals set to take place in early October.
Since George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota in May and subsequent protests around the world, city councils in various American cities have made moves to reduce police budgets and increase oversight of police and their use of force. The Los Angeles City Council has made a $150 million cut to LAPD’s budget while a veto-proof majority of the Seattle City Council pledged to cut their city’s police budget in half this weekend.
Notable Athletes Who Have Opted Out of 2020 Seasons Over COVID-19 Concerns (Photos)
Major U.S. professional sports like the NBA and MLB have returned (the NFL is getting started on it 2020 season), but not everyone will play over concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.
The six-time All Star catcher with the San Francisco Giants opted out of the 2020 season after he and his wife planned to adopt two identical twin girls who were, a journalist for The Athletic reported.
David Price, a pitcher formerly for the Boston Red Sox who this season was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, opted out of the season on July 4 out of the interest of the his health and his family's.
Ian Desmond, an outfielder for the Colorado Rockies, opted out in part because of his pregnant wife and four young children. It was reported that he'd be sacrificing $5.55 million in pro-rated salary for 2020.
Ryan Zimmerman, the 35-year-old first baseman for the World Series champs Washington Nationals, clarified that he would not be retiring by opting out this season. He forfeited $740,000 of pro-rated salary.
Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis opted out of the 2020 season after seeing his teammate Freddie Freeman contract the coronavirus and be sidelined with symptoms of COVID-19. "Just hearing him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough," Markakis said in a press conference. "It was kind of eye-opening. With everything that's going on, not just with baseball but all over the world, it makes you open your eyes."
(Update: Markakis pulled a surprise move on July 29 and decided to rejoin the team for the remainder of the season).
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake, 32, became the first known MLB player to opt out of the 2020 season on June 29. He was scheduled to make $16 million in a full season and is a free agent in 2021.
Felix Hernandez, a longtime pitcher and All Star for the Seattle Mariners, opted out of the 2020 season on July 4. He signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves this season and was competing for a rotation spot.
Joe Ross and Tyson Ross
Joe Ross, 27, and Tyson Ross, 33, two brothers and MLB pitchers for the Washington Nationals and a free agent respectively, both signed out of the 2020 season.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jordan Hicks, 23, opted out of the season after being identified as a high-risk player due to his Type 1 diabetes. He's also recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Michael Kopech, 24, a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, announced on July 10 through the team's general manager that he would be sitting out the 2020 season. Kopech was recovering from Tommy John surgery that kept him sidelined in 2019.
Before New York Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the season, the team was alarmed to find that Cespedes did not report to the ballpark and that he and his belongings were missing from his hotel room. The team was not made aware of his decision to opt out prior to his absence.
Stroman became the second Met to opt out in the middle of the season. Stroman never threw a pitch this season, beginning the year on the Injured List. He cited concerns over the outbreaks on the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins as his reason for sitting out.
A week into the season, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain opted out of the season after the team's home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Cardinals players.
Cauley-Stein opted out on June 25 because he and his partner are expecting a baby in July.
Dinwiddie is one of the few players that won't be playing due to a positive COVID-19 test. On July 7 the Nets' doctors advised Dinwiddie he should not play out of an abundance of caution.
Bradley, a vocal critic of the NBA's restart taking attention away from the nationwide social justice movement, opted out on June 23 in order to remain with his wife and three children.
Chandler opted out on June 28 so he could remain with his family and grandmother.
Sefalosha opted out on July 1, though a specific reason was not given. He had previously expressed concerns over playing in the bubble amid the pandemic.
Like his teammate Dinwiddie, Jordan also will sit out the rest of the 2020 campaign after revealing he tested positive for the disease.
The Indiana Pacers star had just come back from a ruptured quad tendon before the shutdown. He cited the uncertainty of the Orlando bubble as part of his reason for opting out, but he reversed course and ultimately played in the first game for the Indiana Pacers' restart.
(Update: Oladipo joined the Pacers in Orlando and played in scrimmages, but it is still unclear if he'll be part of the season restart).
Ariza opted out June 22 in order to commit to a one-month visitation window with his young son. Families are not allowed inside the NBA bubble until the end of August.
Smith was set to play for the Baltimore Ravens this season.
Mack, an undrafted rookie with the Carolina Panthers, decided on July 28 to forgo his rookie season out of uncertainty from the virus.
The Chicago Bears defensive tackle opted out on July 28 citing health concerns.
Another undrafted rookie, this one with the Dallas Cowboys. Guirdry is one of two Cowboys to opt out, joining Maurice Canady.
Funchess is skipping his first season with the Green Bay Packers over COVID-19 concerns. He had family members that contracted the virus.
The Kansas City Chiefs' starting lineman was the first NFL player to opt out of the season. Duvernay-Tardif spent the offseason as medical volunteer at a long-term care facility in Montreal that was treating coronavirus patients.