Retired basketball power forward Charles Barkley is in the news again. He campaigned in his home state of Alabama for Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones, who narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore on Tuesday. And who knows, maybe Barkley’s support put Jones over the top.
The Alabama Senate race revived talk of Barkley himself running for office. I could think of a lot worse choices.
Generally, I find it annoying when celebrities spout off about politics, but I make an exception for Sir Charles. For one thing, he’s amusing. For another, his politics aren’t predictable.
Even back when Barkley was in the NBA, he showed uncommon wisdom. As he famously said, “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 for them to look to their parents, teachers or other local figures to learn about hard work and a sense of fair play.
After he left the game, Barkley continued to wax philosophical. For instance, 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,” Barkley said. He later said he was cutting down on gambling. Even great philosophers are allowed to change their minds.
But it’s his political musings where Barkley often says the most striking things. He’s regularly spoken out on political issues, often going rogue. And 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 recent years he’s noted that “Democrats are a little less full of it.”
Earlier this year, in perhaps his finest moment, he spoke out on Confederate monuments. It wasn’t that long ago some were claiming these tributes represented a threat to the nation. Some people in authority were ready to tear them all down.
And what did Barkley say? He stated emphatically: “I’m not going to waste my time worrying about these Confederate statues.”
Barkley went on to explain his reasons. “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.”
Barkley added: “I’m wasting my time and energy screaming at a neo-Nazi or (saying) ‘Man, you’ve got to take this statue down.’”
In the past Barkley leaned Republican, though nowadays he seems to be a Democrat. But he’s still willing to criticize his own party (and has been criticized by the left for not toeing the line) and support Republicans who have ideas he likes. As he’s noted, the parties should try to work together – no one disagrees on everything.
Barkley denies he’s going to run for Alabama governor. As he puts it: “They can’t afford me.”
But it would be nice to have a politician who’s a little different, a little unorthodox. When most politicians speak, you know what they’ll say before they open their mouths. Barkley, just as he did in the NBA, would keep everyone on their toes.
So I say run, Charles, run. Maybe they can’t afford you, but as you said about gambling, you can afford it. And this time around, you could be a role model.