GOLF

We can’t lose Charles Barkley at LIV golf

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Charles Barkley could become a TV analyst for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour. He told the New York Post that he recently had dinner with LIV CEO Greg Norman about the job.

Hoping he doesn’t take it.

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It’s not because of the ethical issues of being employed by a repressive regime that seeks to use golf to improve its image. Barkley is right when he called the vehement criticism of the tour “selective outrage”.

“I said [Norman], “Look, they’re making up words like ‘blood money’ and ‘sport washing,'” Barkley told the newspaper. “We’ve all taken ‘blood money’ and we’ve all got something ‘sports washed’ so I don’t like those words, to be honest with you.

“If you’re in professional sports, you’re kind of taking money from a bad cause,” he continued.

In a perfect world, golfers and the media wouldn’t get involved with LIV because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. It’s not a perfect world, though. It’s a world where the current US president just traded a punch with the Saudi crown prince while a former president is hosting the tour at one of his golf courses.

Moral decisions are individual decisions and Barkley is free to make his own – just as everyone is free to judge that decision. He was never one to be taken aback by the backlash. And he’s right that if everyone traced their money’s roots, almost everyone would encounter something uncomfortable through a bank, customer, or investor.

It may not be direct compensation from the Saudis, but it is something.

Charles Barkley could be becoming a top broadcast voice on the LIV Golf Tour. (Photo by David Calvert/Getty Images for American Century Investments)

So, to be clear, Barkley is free to choose his path. The question here is not necessarily what job he would accept, but how he would be able to perform that job.

Barkley is a coveted broadcaster and commercial pitcher because he’s not shy about offering his opinions, not only on basketball, but on social issues, politics, pop culture, and nearly every other topic. His main TV gig – TNT’s “Inside the NBA” – is by far the best studio show in sports, as it allows Barkley almost total creative freedom. It is both serious and unserious, funny and poignant, introspective and irreverent.

Starring Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson, an otherwise mundane TV show has morphed into a cultural force that can be required even by those who don’t care about collapse, say, offense of Boston in the first half.

TNT lets Barkley be Barkley. He stands by her side when controversy inevitably ensues. This protects him when he is called politically incorrect or angers star players, calls out team owners or insults league executives.

Consistently speaking his true opinion on every subject — from gun control to Draymond Green — Barkley is nearly all-powerful. He is an important voice for the country, the rare public figure who can – and does – say what he wants when he wants.

It’s because he works for an American media company.

LIV is anything but.

Will he be able to express himself on this fledgling golf show or even this golf tour, let alone anything else? Is this the end of Barkley…but with a whole lot of money to his name?

Saudis have never shown a modicum of understanding, let alone respect, for free speech or Western-style journalism. The media there are state-run and tasked with promoting national unity and the greatness of the kingdom. He silences fledgling media and has a long track record of jailing and torturing anyone who strays from the government’s narrative. The Saudis fare no better for foreign media, with the most famous being accused of murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an act that even LIV sidekick Phil Mickelson has said he believes to be guilty.

Even in the first few weeks of the LIV Tour, he tried to shut down questions, shut down interviews, and kick reporters out of group press sessions. And that’s just golf.

It’s not the NBA. It’s not America. It’s LIVE.

Barkley can undoubtedly comply. And maybe for the kind of money that would double or triple his TNT salary and cover lost endorsements in the US, he’d happily stay between Saudi lines.

He is able to crack jokes and liven up the show without ruffling feathers. If he thinks it will be like working for Turner, he’s wrong.

Is this what we expect from Charles Barkley? Is this what Barkley wants from himself and his career?

It is his decision and he is free to do so; even if it seems uncomfortable for a man who has enjoyed so much free speech to register with people who don’t believe in it.

For anyone who treasures Barkley’s unfiltered voice and fearless opinions, losing Barkley to LIV could prove to be a real loss. He has too much to offer sports fans and Americans in general to shut up and cash a check.

So hoping he says no. Let’s hope he’s still Charles Barkley.

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