|Charles Barkley: A role model when it counts|
In an attempt to one-up the It Get's Better commercial campaign (to understand real bullying, check out Foxsnooze.com), the NBA released a "don't call people or their basketball moves 'gay' because that's wrong" commercial.
After two basketball figures publicly came out over the weekend, former Auburn player and Leeds native Charles Barkley has encouraging words for gay athletes.
"It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: 'Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy,'" Barkley said on 106.7 The Fan in Washington. "First of all, quit telling me what I think. I'd rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can't play."
ESPN reports that Barkley said he's certain he played with gay teammates on two or three teams during his basketball career, but he never worried about awkward situations involving gay teammates, because "[It] doesn't work like that."
Phoenix Suns executive Rick Welts and former Villanova starter Will Sheridan announced their sexual orientation last weekend. Sheridan had already come out to and was accepted by his college teammates, according to ESPN.
ESPN reports that Barkley, who played for the Suns, wishes Welts the best.
"First of all, society discriminates against gay people," Barkley said. "They always try to make it like jocks discriminate against gay people. I've been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time, because as a black person, I can't be in for any form of discrimination at all."
I'm not a role model. I'm not paid to be a role model. I'm paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids .- Charles Barkley in 1993.
Newsweek wrote this about the obvious political opportunist back in 1993:
The exploits of Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley have stirred a debate about what pro athletes owe their fans. Are kids really that naive?
It's hard to believe now, but there war, supposedly, a time when every pink-faced, pug-nosed American youngster wanted more than anything to grow up to be president. Well, as any casual visit to the haunts of the young and unfamous will show, the aspirations of youth have undergone a change.
If kids can be said to vote with their T shirts these days, it's sports stardom over politics by a landslide. Across the country, from West Hollywood to Miami Beach, mall rats are flaunting the leaping likenesses of Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley on their chests. Presidents can raise taxes and wage war; but did Bill Clinton-or Hillary ever pump in 55 points in a playoff game?
Accordingly, the revelation that the slam-dunking Jordan has been running up scores in Atlantic City casinos, too, has rekindled some sharp debate about the obligation of sports figures to set examples for the young. In the brusquely forthright words of Barkley: "I'm not paid to be a role model. I'm paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court." That observation, immortalized in a widely seen television commercial, has stirred up roughly equal measures of support and dissent. "In essence Barkley is correct," says Boston College sociologist Michael Malec, former editor of the Journal of Sport and Social Issues.
"If you want to emulate what he does on court, you've got a wonderful model there. That doesn't necessarily mean he ought to be a model as a father or husband." But others saw the remark as merely rationalizing Barkley's own uncourtly deportment. "Funny, how big shots accept all the trappings of role modeldom--especially the residual commercial cash-before they renounce their broader responsibilities to society," scolded New York Post sports watchdog Phil Mushnick.
And fellow hoopster Karl Malone, in a column written for Sports Illustrated, chided Barkley directly : "Charles...I don't think it's your decision to make. We don't choose to be role models, we are chosen. Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one."
The debate itself has undergone a transformation; the Pollyanna premises of old have given way to the latter-day realpolitik of tarnished celebrity. Says sociologist Charles Payne, professor of African-American and urban studies at Northwestern University: "If you were to go through baseball's or football's Hall of Fame, you're not going to come up with a bunch of choirboys." Most fans, in any case, seem perfectly willing to overlook Jordan's gambling caper. For one thing, unlike Pete Rose, he hasn't been reckless enough to bet on his own sport. "It was just something he did for fun, not anything to harm anything," says 12-year-old Genny Sonday, of Lincoln, Neb., speaking for many of her peers.
But that doesn't quite get the ball jocks off the hook. Celebrities like Barkley may decline the honor, but their high visibility obliges them to behave with at least an awareness that they are being watched by millions. Like it or not, they have a power of influence on worshipful young fans multiplied by the huge factor of television-perhaps even more so among the minority poor, who have few other avatars of success to excite their hopes. It may be well and good to point out, as most child psychologists do, that parents are the main role models in a child's life.
But that smugly assumes an intact and caring set of parents to do the job. "What does it say to the kid who doesn't really have anybody?" asks Dr. Robert Burton, a Northwestern University psychiatrist who specializes in treating athletes. "Kids need to have someone they can idealize in order to aspire to become better themselves. Without that, there's not much hope for them."