Years ago, when Charles Barkley still had the body of athlete most of us would’ve killed to have, he afforded America a well-needed reality check – he wasn’t a role model. Unlike Michael Jordan, he didn’t want to be one. It wasn’t his job.
For the most part, Barkley stands by his adage today. He’s had his run-ins with the law and taken it as a badge of honor finding a way ruffle feathers with own brand of unique honesty. Athletes are just well-paid regular people in Chuck’s eyes. The true pillars of inspiration are the everyday man and woman in the community. The doctors, lawyers, soldiers, teachers, the people who reach out and influence communities, inner cities and areas of the sort in much more impactful ways than a multi-million dollar shoe deal could ever hope to fathom.
Nevertheless, Chuck is a role model. Or at the very least, his battered and tattered angel wings are being exposed.
The story of Keiearra Williams, 15, Thomas Joseph Reed, 10, and Terrence Williams, 7, is a cautionary tale reminding us evil inhabits the same neighborhoods we call home. Selling fruit with their mother to raise money for their church, the three siblings were plowed down by a stolen van in Philadelphia last Friday. Innocence was now stripped of its beauty. A family rendered to a shell of itself for eternity and humid days once labeled by “summer vacation” are now forever stained by their own blood permanently saturating the Philly pavement they once called home.
In the murder vehicle sat two young men who, for the rest of their natural born lives, will begrudgingly be immortalized as poster-boys of “the evil that men do.” Cornelius Crawford, 23, and Jonathan Rosa, 19, have since been charged with second-degree murder, robbery, carjacking, sexual assault (stemming from the act that led them to steal the car) and other counts.
While he has yet to speak on the matter publicly, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams confirmed the Hall of Fame Sixer indeed inquired about paying for the children’s funerals.
“Like most Philadelphians, many Americans and people across the world,” Williams said, “[Barkley] wanted me to know that he wanted to pay for the funeral for these three children and I put him in touch with the family so he can do that.”
It’s a stand-up move from a guy Philadelphians came to cherish as one of their own during his eight years in the city. Yet, there’s always the human-decency element involved. Having some sort of emotional connection to the story is common. The tragedy in Philadelphia is nothing more than an example of what Barkley – through so many words – has preached from his patented corner seat on Inside The NBA.
Basketball has given Charles Barkley opportunities and luxuries in life he would have never been afforded. “They call me Mr. Barkley when I step in the bank,” he often jokes. However, it’s about being able to remove ourselves from the bubbles that are our own lives and understand the influence we have is often more far-reaching than we probably realize.
I’m sure Chuck didn’t offer to pay for Keiearra, Thomas and Terrence’s funeral for P.R. purposes. He’s one of the most popular athletes – active or retired – in America. He’s the star of the most popular pre-and-post-game basketball show on network television, bar none. Chuck’s not perfect, nor has he ever been. Chuck’s never attempted to be.
Paying for a funeral for three kids he never knew and probably would have never known had two vile pieces of human excrement not ran them down in cold blood doesn’t make Charles Barkley a role model. Instead, paying for their funeral further constitutes why “Sir Charles” is revered for reasons far beyond the championship ring that eluded him his entire career.
He’s human. It’s his way of giving back to the city who embraced him when he was the fat kid out of Auburn in 1984. He gets “it.” And like Chuck, I just wish it didn’t take something like this to reinforce the notion.