Charles Barkley‘s passing comment about the presence of coded language in sports talk has opened up an online dialogue for a much larger conversation.
During the June 5 episode of “Inside the NBA,” host Ernie Johnson, along with analysts Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith, began to discuss the recent coaching vacancies on the Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic staffs, and Barkley, in a moment of snark, called out the how-to-tell on whether Black NBA coaches versus white coaches departed from their positions simply by listening to the delivery of the message.
“Mutual parting of ways in Portland and in Orlando,” Johnson began. “Steve Clifford out with the Magic, Terry Stotts out with the Portland Trail Blazers.”
“America, that means they were white,” interjected Barkley, who was met by laughter from his fellow Black colleagues. “They fire brothers, they don’t part ways.”
Johnson appeared to laugh uncomfortably while trying to move to conversation along to sports reporter Chris Haynes, who silently nodded in agreement with Barkley.
Fans appeared to largely agree with Barkley’s calling-out of the subtle racism in reporting, but also pointed out that there have been exceptions to the pattern.
“He’s not wrong…”
“Doc Rivers and LAC ‘parted ways’ this still funny and true the majority of the time.”
“If Charles hadn’t said anything right in all the years on that show, that was the very truth of his career. Chuck, for me you need not to say anything else. Because, I know Shaq wouldn’t say a word close to that statement.”
Black athletes make up more than 74.2 percent of the NBA, however, only seven teams have Black head coaches, which makes reports of white coaches Clifford and Stotts “parting ways” from their respective teams “mutually,” juxtaposed against those like former Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce and former Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw being “fired” paints a biased picture.
Biases related to coaching opportunities within the NBA have been under criticism for some time, however the NBA has not released a formal statement addressing them at the time of this writing. ESPN reported that NBA commissioner Adam Silver previously said, “We’re constantly looking at how we can do better,” when asked about how to improve diversity and inclusion in the league’s management ranks.
“One of the things the league can do in working with our teams, therefore, is focus on a better process that ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity to sort of join the fraternity, so to speak,” he explained. “You’re not going to get to be a head coach in this league unless you serve most likely as an assistant coach first or you’ve been a top player in the league.”
The issue isn’t only present in basketball, however. Former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn was reported as “fired” by the Los Angeles Times, even as the team used “part ways” in the statement about his dismissal. In a more clear example, a final headline announcing the expected dismissal of NFL coach Adam Gase from the New York Jets reads “part ways,” while the URL link uses the term “expected to fire.”