charles barkley tnt

By Jamar Hudson / @jamarhudson

Unlike his boy MJ, Charles Barkley has successfully found a post-career profession that has equalled, if not surpassed, his Hall-of-Fame playing career.

He is undoubtedly the driving force behind the best studio show not just in basketball, but in all of sports. The NBA on TNT has made Thursday nights for the NBA fan the equivalent of what Monday nights are during football season — or at least as close as one can get to matching the NFL.

Part of what we love, and sometimes hate, about Barkley is his willingness to have an unfiltered opinion on everything. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Barkley refuses to shy away from controversial issues and doesn’t know the meaning of politically correct. It seems that whenever something happens in the sports arena, a Barkley analysis is needed on said radio or TV show. Why? Because we seem to care and I guess respect how Barkley feels on the issues. And to be perfectly honest, his delivery can be humorous and make light of what may be a more serious situation.

But there can be too much of a good thing. There are times, not just for Barkley, when a simple “no comment” will suffice for those in the spotlight. It may be perceived as taking the easy way out, but in that particular situation, less may be more.

The entire nation has been captivated by the Trayvon Martin trial and subsequent aquittal of George Zimmerman. Since the not guilty verdict came down late last Saturday, reaction has come from every direction and from every imaginable points of view. It has impacted the sports world as many athletes, especially African-Americans, have weighed in as they can, in some ways, indentify with Trayvon and the racial profiling that led to the tragedy of his killing.

So when Barkley was on CNBC’s Closing Bell on Thursday to speak with Maria Baritromo about the case, we expected his usual frankness. But what came out of his mouth has left many, including myself, scratching our heads.

When asked his feelings on the Trayvon Martin case, Barkley said:

“Well, I agree with the verdict… I feel sorry that young kid got killed, but they didn’t have enough evidence to charge them. Something clearly went wrong that night. Clearly something went wrong, and I feel bad for anybody who loses a kid. But if you looked at the case and you don’t make it — there was some racial profiling, no question about it. But something happened that changed the dynamic of that night. And I know, and that’s probably not a popular opinion among most people, but just looking at the evidence I agree with the verdict.”

Barkley would later go on to say:

“I don’t think the media has clean hands. And, like I said, I feel sorry that young kid got killed, but just judging by the evidence, I don’t think that guy should have went to jail for the rest of his life, because something happened bad that night obviously.”

Sigh.

Barkley’s agreement with the verdict is not the issue. Having had a chance to step back and take emotion of it, many believe that in light of the evidence, that was the correct decision. But when given the opportunity to weigh in on the verdict and what it means, Barkley swung and missed badly. For as mainstream as Barkley has become, for African-American in particular, he still represents “us.” And for the millions of regular black folk who don’t have the platform that he does, his perceived lack of sympathy on the issues hurts. I’d be willing to be that if this had happened to a relative or family friend in his native Alabama, a state known for its race issues, Barkley’s tone would have been completely different.

I’m sorry Charles, but your shifting the focus to the “agenda” of the media, both black and white, is an easy out. Are there agendas? Absolutely. But on that night, had the thought not entered George Zimmerman’s mind that Trayvon Martin was suspicious simply based on this appearance, the end result may have been completely different. You had an opportunity to bring light to an issue that not only led to Travyon Martin’s death, but impacts so many athletes you analyze while sitting in the Turner studios in Atlanta.

Predictably, Barkley’s words have been picked up by the media and have been taken as gospel. The teflon don of athletic and social commentary has put his stamp on yet another issue as some sort of unofficial expert with no threat of backflash. And I can’t be mad at that. I would’ve liked to see Sir Charles challenge not only the system, but himself to highlight the bigger issue of what the Trayvon Martin verdict represents.

Or simply say “no comment.”