On Tuesday, the members of TNT’s Inside The NBA pregame show held a season opening conference call with the media. After being asked about how they think player protests and activism among players will be handled on and off the court this season, Awful Announcing posed an interesting question to former players Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal:
If you were players in today’s NBA, how would you handle being active on social issues that are at the forefront of today’s sporting landscape?
Straight off the bat, Barkley and O’Neal said they would both stand for the National Anthem, but Barkley said this issue needs to be about more than that.
“What are we actually doing for our community? That’s all I really care about,” Barkley said. “Man, we gotta start putting our money where our mouth is.”
Barkley suggested he would give back to his community and help more kids go to college rather than just sit around and talk about being socially active. He also said the media is handling this issue poorly, in part because they care too much about who’s standing and who is not for the Anthem.
“I’m just so sick of the media hijacking this conversation because they need something to talk about every day,” Barkley said. “Man, let’s start doing. Stop talking.”
On kneeling during the National Anthem, O’Neal said that many people are just going to tune you out solely because they believe it’s disrespectful to the flag.
“When you do it at a moment during the National Anthem— and I know people say it’s not about the flag, and I believe that it’s not about the flag— but when you do it in that moment, there’s a large majority of people that say you are disrespecting the flag and they won’t even listen to your conversation,” O’Neal said.
The only way to go about protesting, the trio of former players agreed, was in a peaceful and respectful way.
“When you give people a choice to listen or not to listen, they’re always going to go to the excuse,” O’Neal said, stressing that many people who criticize National Anthem kneelers would immediately tune out or discount an opinion or cause because of this. “‘If you disrespect the flag, I’m not gonna listen to you.’”
O’Neal “would try to do it much bigger” by holding large press conferences, like past sports icons who were successful at social activism.
“When I always look at the photos of Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they held a press conference and they made their case known. I would do it like that,” O’Neal said. “Because when you do it like that, respectfully, people have no choice but to listen.”
Smith took a more analytical and cerebral approach to the question, saying that the first thing he would do as an NBA player today would be to educate himself on all the important issues of the day. Some of those issues, Smith said, he didn’t need to be educated on, having grown up in the inner cities of Queens, New York and knowing those life lessons first hand.
“The reality is that there’s an issue in the inner cities of America that is not being addressed,” Smith said, beginning an honest and frank discussion of why he would seriously consider openly protesting if he were an NBA player today. This issue won’t be a problem solved by just throwing money at it, he said.
“It’s a collective thought that’s perpetuated by a certain group of people that won’t allow any amount of finances to change or allow any amount of finances to make change,” Smith said. “So to me, it’s about changing the mindset, or acknowledging that there’s a mindset of people that are prejudicial towards minorities in America.”
Making it known and publicized that this prejudicial mindset exists, Smith said, is the root of why these player protests are taking place altogether, and why some players feel it’s necessary to kneel for the National Anthem, or lock arms, or raise their fists, or wear sneakers on national television that say “Equality,” like LeBron James did on Tuesday night.
“Until that is consistently addressed, no matter how much money you throw at it, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “And it is about bringing awareness to it in any shape, form or fashion, as long as it’s peaceful. So that’s what I feel.”