I'm going to be honest with you. Charles Barkley has always gotten on my nerves. From his loud mouth antics on the court and unbridled cockiness off to the NBA Hall of Famer's now infamous statement, "I'm not a role model. I'm not paid to be a role model," his attitude had never quite sat well with me. That along with his expressed desire to run for governor of our home state of Alabama in 2014 resonated with me as a kind of "celebrity entitlement" program perk lacking genuine self-awareness. It's the, "Well, Jesse and Arnold did it, I can do it, too," syndrome. With few states being redder than Bama, I've often wondered what on earth would make him think he could be the governor of the "Heart of Dixie."
But something's changed and I don't mean the election of Barack Obama.
Over the weekend, I witnessed Mr. Barkley give a cable news interview at the start of his three-day jail sentence in Arizona for two misdemeanor D.U.I. charges related to his arrest on New Year's Eve. What I saw was a different Charles Barkley. I truly believe I glimpsed the spirit of a humbler, gentler and kinder gentleman than the cultivated persona of the hot-shot-campus-jock-run-amok we've seen for over twenty years now. What seeped through was a deeper connection to his humanness. I saw vulnerability yet strength. The kind of strength that comes from a man's inner probing. In his own words Mr. Barkley said, "I take full responsibility for my actions." He didn't blame the media or the likes of his third grade teacher like so many celebs do when caught in an indiscretion. Mr. Barkley has also said that, if necessary, he would stop drinking. It was quite refreshing.
A brush with the law or public humiliation for some can be the much needed wakeup call that can lead them to a deeper examination of themselves and their behavior. It's almost cliché that hardship renders one a new perspective on life, but with Barkley I think there is something there.
Perhaps it's just wishful thinking on my part, but for the first time in my memory, I actually saw Mr. Barkley exude the characteristics of a man, who with careful and continued personal development, introspection and maturity, might emerge as the role model and true leader off the court, he has the potential to be.
Governor of Alabama? "Well, let's not push it. I still believe Mr. Barkley has about as great a chance of being governor of Alabama as I do of being quarterback for my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide. But this minor setback has given him an opportunity to examine how he might still serve society, his community and a world in great need of strong leaders regardless of whether he makes it to the executive mansion or not. It sort of harkens back to what President Obama has been advocating since announcing his run for the White House. Service.
That said, if Mr. Barkley sees being governor of Bama as his ultimate goal, then by all means he must go for it. Isn't that what America is all about? God knows there was enough bloodshed on the dusty back roads of Alabama for anyone to feel they have the right to pursue the highest office in the state. With Democratic Rep. Artur Davis, the African American congressman from Birmingham, having already announced his candidacy for the office in 2010, who's to say that the great state of Alabama will not have evolved to a neo South status to make Mr. Barkley's candidacy viable?
Yet Mr. Barkley still has much work to do to be a credible candidate. I suggest he seek to use what should be his better understanding of the law and the criminal justice system to bring a heightened sensitivity to many of the social ills still plaguing the state of Alabama and the country such as the disproportionate incarceration rate of African Americans, poorly funded public schools, poverty, and alcoholism. And get to it now. If 2014 is to be your big year, we need to see you step into your greatness today. When on his quest, Mr. Barkley needs to remember that quiet confidence will take him a lot farther than a loud mouth.
Yes, I know it can be burdensome being a hero for all of your less fortunate brethren. Nevertheless, Sir Charles, it sort of goes with the territory. So when they ask you if you're a role model this time around please tell them that you are. Let us see some growth, homeboy. This could be your three-point shot of a lifetime.