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Charles Barkley is steamed. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee sees style overtaking substance, including in the NBA, when it comes to social justice. He worries that by the time all is said and done, more will be said than done.

Barkley minced no words during an interview on CNBC’s Power Lunch, calling the focus on statements on the backs of jerseys and symbolism like kneeling during the national anthem a “circus” that’s detrimental to progress.

Charles Barkley calls for the end to social justice ‘circus’

Charles Barkley is a basketball legend and an analyst on NBA on TNT. On Sunday, he became probably the biggest name in sports to challenge the behavior and rhetoric that have been making headlines.

“What’s happening now is we’re turning into a circus. Instead of talking about racial equality, racial justice, and economic justice, we spend all our time worrying about who’s kneeling and not kneeling. What’s being said on buses. What’s been said on jerseys. I think we’re missing the point.”

Charles Barkley

Barkley called for the focus to be on mechanisms that lead to actual police reform and prison reform rather than slogans and symbolism.

“We need the cops, good cops out there policing bad cops. … When we spend time focusing on what’s on the jersey, that’s gonna defeat (the) purpose. My concern is this is turning into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff.”

Charles Barkley

What sent Charles Barkley over the edge isn’t known

The death of George Floyd while being detained by Minneapolis police on May 25 was a major trigger to arguably the greatest focus on social justice causes in the nation’s history. Protests in streets across the country have launched discussion and some degree of action.

That being said, it’s nearly seven weeks after Floyd’s death but the average American is more likely to know that what year Washington’s football team was named the Redskins than which major cities have adopted measures to defund their police departments.

On Saturday, Los Angeles Lakers great LeBron James made news by telling reporters that he will wear his name on the back of his uniform when the NBA season resumes at the end of the month in Orlando, Florida. The league is giving players the option to replace their names with approved social justice messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “Listen to Us.”

Barkley worries that fans already worn down by four months of COVID-19 quarantines, job losses, and disruptions to life in general will be turned off by social justice messages at games that they’re watching to relax and unwind.

“We are in a divided country,” Barkley said. “Sports used to be a place where fans could go and get away from reality. Now it’s such a mixture. … They don’t want to see a bunch of rich people talking about stuff all the time. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.”

Retired NBA star happy to see season resuming

The NBA faces an uphill battle in resuming its regular season and conducting playoffs. Even with the teams isolated in the so-called bubble at Disney World, there is much that can go wrong by the time everything wraps up in the late fall.

Charles Barkley is happy that the league is trying to give fans something they want to see while he also acknowledges the obstacles.

“I think you’d have to be foolish to think we could go that whole three months without getting positive tests,” he said, “but I think we are all flying in the dark right now, and I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen.