Charles Barkley: Sports are turning social justice issues into a 'circus'

Key Points
  • Charles Barkley said he worries that sports are getting too political. 
  • The former MVP said that the main reason to play right now is money.
  • Barkley worries that Covid-19 is further widening the gap between the rich and poor. 
NBA legend Charles Barkley: We need police and prison reform
NBA legend Charles Barkley: We need police and prison reform

Charles Barkley told CNBC's Power Lunch on Friday that, instead of talking about issues related to racial and economic justice, the sports world is more focused on who is or isn't kneeling, or what social justice message is written on the back of NBA players' jerseys.

"We need police reform, we need prison reform," he said. "My concern is turning this into a circus instead of trying to do some good stuff." 

Barkley is in Edgewood Tahoe, Nevada this week, playing in American Century's celebrity championship golf tournament. The sports legend spoke to CNBC about basketball, race relations and social justice. 

The NBA announced last week that players in Orlando will be allowed to feature social justice related messages on the back of their jerseys. Phrases consist of everything from "Black Lives Matter," to "Equality," to "How many more?"

The messages will be optional but the vast majority of players are said to be participating.

Barkley said fans need a break from reality right now, as millions of people are sick with coronavirus and others are suffering job loss. 

"The last thing they want to do is turn on the television and hear arguments all the time. It's going to be very interesting to see how the public reacts," he said.

Coronavirus cases continued to soar in Florida as NBA teams arrived in Orlando this week. The state health department said cases rose by 11,433 (just shy of a single day high) to a total of 244,151. Barkley said he's hopeful and optimistic about the NBA's re-start plan, where 22-teams will compete in the Orlando bubble. 

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

Barkley said the decision to cancel the season would have huge economic consequences for players and could cost them $2 billion over the next couple of years.

"That's a lot of money for these players... and they can put it back in their community. So I think that's the main reason to to play," he said. 

The 11-time NBA All-Star also also weighed in on the return to school in the fall. 

"You'd have to be a fool to think your kids will be safe in school right now," he said. Yet, he worries that keeping kids at home could also deepen the divide between the rich and the poor. 

"A lot of kids who are at home don't have access to the internet. That really makes the gap between the rich and poor even more so. This is a critical time in our country," he added.

"I just hope we get some adults who know what they are doing and stop screwing around and dividing our country," he said.