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This past week, more than a hundred NBA players reportedly jumped on a conference call to discuss details about the league’s proposed return to action at Disney World. During the call, players including Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard reportedly expressed reservations about suiting up, arguing it would distract from the current protests and push toward social justice and police reform. Other players reportedly argued they should return and use the platform as a voice for change. The disagreement has been widely covered by the media, and now, NBA legend and commentator Charles Barkley has weighed in.
The former Dream Team member and Hall of Famer went on ESPN earlier this week to discuss his take, and not surprisingly, Sir Charles did not pull any punches. He called the players “stupid” for thinking about sitting out and said if they do, they’ll lose their platform and be “out of sight, out of mind” for the rest of the year. He also argued it’ll cost them billions they could have funneled into their own communities. Here’s a portion of his quote…
I think it would be stupid to not play for two reasons. Number one, if they don’t play, they’re going to be out of sight, out of mind for the rest of the year. There won’t be no cameras following (them). LeBron is probably the most famous athlete in the United States. He won’t be visible anywhere. Out of sight, out of mind. Also, these guys have got to realize, this money is not coming back. They’re going to lose billions of dollars (they) could use to go into their own community to do great stuff. It’s not good on any front. I don’t know what Kyrie and Dwight are talking about, but it would be a catastrophic mistake not to play.
At a time when baseball players and owners are fighting over money and may not return to action, it’s much more relatable, as a fan, to see players argue over the league’s response to social justice reforms. There has been an unprecedented groundswell for change over the past few weeks. There are some players who don’t want to do anything to distract from that, and that take feels admirable. At the same time, there are other players (and former players like Barkley) who think the players have a platform to reach millions every night and would be doing themselves and the movement a disservice by not using it to fight for change. And it's hard to argue with the logic in that. Being on TV every night and being paid millions of dollars offers a lot of opportunities for good. You can check out more of ESPN's discussion on the matter below...
Right now, it seems like most of the momentum is on the side of the players returning to action but with a commitment to keeping current issues at the forefront. Commissioner Adam Silver has already released a statement saying any player who doesn’t return for any reason, including health concerns, family concerns or social justice concerns, will be allowed to sit out and will not be considered in violation of their contract. No official announcement has been made, however, as to what the league is officially doing.
If the players elect not to return, there may be more consequences than would initially seem obvious. By not finishing the season, the league would violate agreements to both its television contracts and its collective bargaining agreement. As the players and owners split estimated percentages of revenue, many of the players may need to return money they’ve already been paid, and the entire collective bargaining agreement may need to be renegotiated. With questions about when fans will be able to return to stadiums, that new contract may not be as lucrative for players as the current split, and it may take an extended period of time to negotiate.
It’s likely we’ll officially know what the players and the league decide to do within the next few weeks. Until then, expect the conversation to continue both in the public eye and quietly behind closed doors and as involved look for a way to continue to push for change while also getting back to work safely, the last of which is another completely fair topic of concern that many players are concerned about too.