F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, but Charles Barkley has proved him wrong.
Barkley spent 16 seasons in the NBA, and was one of the greatest players ever. Since then, however, he’s been enjoying a second career as a pundit, speaking out on issues of the day, often with surprising wisdom.
His recent statements on how to deal with confederate statues stand out as pearls of wisdom amidst all the sound and fury. But we’ll get to that soon enough.
Even as a player he was outspoken, famously noting “I am not a role model.” An excellent point. NBA superstars are lousy role models—most kids are not going to make it in pro-sports, no matter how hard they try. Much better they look to their parents, teachers or other local figures to learn about hard work and a sense of fair play.
In a time of hysteria, Barkley’s words shine out like a beacon of light.
After he left the game, Barkley continued to wax philosophical. When he amassed large gambling debts, his response was simple. He said he could afford it. “As long as I can continue to do it, I don’t think it’s a problem.” (He later said he was cutting down on gambling. Even great philosophers are allowed to change their minds.)
In recent years, he’s regularly spoken out on political issues, often going rogue—he has never felt entirely at home with either the Democrats or the Republicans. In fact, at one point he said they’re both “full of it” (though in the year Barack Obama ran, he noted “Democrats are a little less full of it”).
And now, in perhaps his finest moment, he is speaking out on the brouhaha over Confederate monuments.
Suddenly, it seems, these tributes represent a threat to the nation, and we need to check out every shrine, slab and statue to make sure they don’t oppress us or pollute our republic.
People in authority are saying we should tear down every monument that doesn’t pass muster, often without any serious discussion beforehand—some thugs are already doing it under cover of night.
Barkley will have none of it. When recently asked about the issue, he stated emphatically “I’m not going to waste my time worrying about these Confederate statues.”
He enlarged upon the subject:
“I’m 54 years old. I’ve never thought about those statues a day in my life. I think if you ask most black people to be honest, they ain’t thought a day in their life about those stupid statues. What we as black people need to do: we need to worry about getting our education, we need to stop killing each other, we need to try to find a way to have more economic opportunity and things like that. [...] I’m wasting my time and energy screaming at a neo-Nazi or [saying] ‘Man, you’ve got to take this statue down.’”
Though he speaks to the black community, the argument applies to our society as a whole. It may just be common sense, but in a time of hysteria, Barkley’s words shine out like a beacon of light.
On second thought, maybe he is a role model.