Stephen A. Smith defends Charles Barkley

As of now, Charles Barkley is committed to Turner Sports and Inside the NBA, but if LIV Golf comes calling again, Stephen A. Smith fully supports interest in the Saudi-backed tour.

Smith returned to ESPN’s First Take this week after a lengthy vacation and recovery shoulder surgery, and as he spoke about Tiger Woods’ staunch defense of the PGA Tour, Smith took time to address Barkley’s interest in LIV.

“My private conversations with Charles Barkley will remain as such,” Smith said on First Take, insinuating that the basketball Hall-of-Famer gauged his thoughts on potentially making the jump to LIV. “Let me tell you what I told him, ‘Man, please, you do the hell what you want to do.’ This is America. If they ain’t violating no laws in this country and they’re free to do business and that’s what you wanna do, you go ahead and do it! How the hell can our government do business with people and big-time corporations can do business with another government, but we’re gonna hold individuals accountable?”

LIV Golf is financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a government known for committing brutal human rights abuses and its complicity in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Sure, everyone has the right to partner with LIV Golf, but that shouldn’t excuse a person from backlash or criticism, even if serving as an indirect ambassador to the Saudi regime is not their intent.

“I’m sensitive to people talking about 9/11, please don’t think for one second, I’m being insensitive to that in any way and my heart goes out to those family members,” Smith continued. “What I’m saying is, the intensity that you exercise toward golfers who want to compete under the LIV umbrella, do the same thing to the government and the corporations.”

But those 9/11 families have urged people not to support LIV Golf and pleaded with former president Donald Trump to keep LIV Golf events out of Bedminster, New Jersey, just 50 miles from Ground Zero. Smith claiming “I’m sensitive” won’t be perceived as genuine while simultaneously encouraging people to take LIV’s Saudi money.

As Smith noted, the United States government has a relationship with Saudi Arabia. Various corporations also profit off their business dealings with Saudi Arabia. But those corporations are not portrayed as ambassadors for the Saudi government.

The outrage over golfers, broadcasters, and politicians who support LIV Golf stems from watching it play out publicly. We are witnessing Phil Mickelson, Charles Barkley and other superstar personalities develop an attraction for LIV Golf’s deep pockets, even if it means being adopted as an ambassador to the Saudi royal family to help sportswash their image.

[First Take]

About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to