The act of speaking on television, for me, always requires twisting into more contorted knots than my Grandmother's Challah. When the camera turns on, you have to mind your words with care... while trying to entertain... while trying to say something politically strong...while trying to conform to whatever topic is being discussed ... and all while having a microphone in your ear that contains a Smithsonian collection of earwax from previous esteemed guests.
This is why I am always astounded by Charles Barkley. It's not just that the NBA Hall of Famer-turned-announcer speaks without a filter. There is many a Howard Stern-Kathy Griffin-Jersey Shore-fungal spawn who do that on a nightly basis. It's that Barkley actually has something to say.
On TNT's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day NBA Double Header, Barkley was in fantastic form when speaking about the legacy of the great civil rights leader. First TNT showed a clip of Dr. King's daughter Rev. Bernice King, the current President of Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Unlike her mother, Coretta Scott King, and allies of her father like Bayard Rustin and Julian Bond, King stands in stark opposition to the LGBT community and the notion that they have a stake in "civil rights." She even once led an anti-Gay march to her father's gravesite.
On TNT, Bernice King, in an otherwise boiler-plate sound bite, said that she felt a "responsibility to continue" her father's legacy. When the camera swung back to the Round Mound of Rebound, he was ready. "His daughter said something that was very interesting," Barkley said. "People try to make it about black and white. [But] he talked about equality for every man, every woman. We have a thing going on now, people discriminating against homosexuality in this country. I love the homosexuality people. God bless the gay people. They are great people."
All right, "I love the homosexuality people" probably won't rival "I Have a Dream" in the annals of political poetry, but anyone who is aware of the shameful homophobia and tortured justifications of Bernice King and her self-described "spiritual father", the scandal-plagued Bishop Eddie Long, knew exactly why Barkley chose that particular moment to raise the issue.
Barkley is also no dilettante on the issue of LGBT rights, especially impressive in the often-homophobic hamlet of professional sports. As early as August 2006 on Fox Sports, the NBA Hall of Famer said, "I'm a big advocate of gay marriage. If they want to get married, God bless them."
In 2008, speaking to a rather rattled Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Barkley said, "Every time I hear the word 'conservative,' it makes me sick to my stomach, because they're really just fake Christians, as I call them. That's all they are. ... I think they want to be judge and jury. Like, I'm for gay marriage. It's none of my business if gay people want to get married. I'm pro-choice. And I think these Christians, first of all, they're not supposed to judge other people. But they're the most hypocritical judge of people we have in the country. And it bugs the hell out of me. They act like they're Christians. They're not forgiving at all."
On MLK day, Barkley also didn't stop there. He said "We have discrimination against Hispanic people in this country and we need to answer to that."
This echoed his comments last Cinco de Mayo, after the passage of Arizona's S.B. 1070 law where he said, "Immigrants aren't the problem. The only people screwing it up are the politicians. You know, living in Arizona for a long time, the Hispanic community, they're like the fabric of the cloth. They're part of our community and any time you try to do any type of racial profiling or racial discrimination is wrong."
Dr. King once said, "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." It says something unfortunate about our times that we have a "molder" calling basketball games, and a "searcher" in the White House. But we should take the molders where we can get them. Carry on, Sir Charles. Keep speaking truth until "God Bless the Gays" rings from every pulpit, including the one occupied by Bernice King. That's certainly what Coretta would have wanted.
First posted at thenation.com