Charles Barkley apologized for an offensive remark about assaulting a woman. Yet it’s not the first time he’s joked about hitting women, reinforcing the cavalier attitudes behind this nation’s pervasive culture of misogynistic violence.
In an Atlanta bar Tuesday, Barkley, the former NBA superstar, told Alexi McCammond, a political reporter for Axios, “I don’t hit women, but if I did I would hit you.” When she called him out, Barkley told McCammond she “couldn’t take a joke,” the comeback of choice for men defending their lousy behavior. Once her tweets about the encounter went viral, Barkley offered his PR contrition.
“My comment was inappropriate and unacceptable,” he said in a statement released by Turner Sports, home of TNT’s “Inside the NBA” where Barkley is an analyst. “It was an attempted joke that wasn’t funny at all. There’s no excuse for it and I apologize.”
That didn’t stop other men from amplifying Barkley’s comment, burdening McCammond with one of those toxic days in which women, especially women of color like herself, are attacked for their race, gender, and refusal to coddle male fragility.
Barkley’s apology was about protecting his cushy job, nothing more. An NBA Hall of Famer, Barkley has a Hall of Shame mouth. He’s made sexist and misogynistic remarks before, and built his lucrative brand on and off the court saying outrageous things. After a hard-fought win in 1990, Barkley said, “This is a game that if you lose, you go home and beat your wife and kids. Did you see my wife jumping up and down at the end of the game? That’s because she knew I wasn’t going to beat her.” That time, he also claimed to be joking, and apologized.
It’s disturbing that Barkley keeps finding violence against women a ready source of hilarity. Perhaps he can share what’s so funny about the daily endangering of women’s lives.
During October, which is national Domestic Violence Month, at least nine murders in Massachusetts were linked to domestic violence. That includes three children killed in Groton by their father, who also murdered their mother before taking his own life.
This month, a Revere man was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his wife, Vanessa Masucci, in 2017.
Nationwide, several recent mass shootings garnered varying degrees of attention. By far, a Santa Clarita, Calif., school shooting, in which two children were killed and several others wounded, received the most coverage. Yet quickly forgotten was the murder of a San Diego woman and three of her children by her estranged husband. He then shot and killed himself. Twenty four hours earlier, she had been granted a restraining order against him.
When word came Monday of a mass shooting in an Oklahoma Walmart parking lot, many feared a repeat of last summer’s El Paso massacre by a white supremacist who murdered 22 people. Attention shifted away once police declared the murder-suicide that left three dead — a woman, her boyfriend, and her husband, who killed himself — “a domestic dispute."
And this year has been another deadly one for black transgender women, with at least 20 murdered this year. Between transphobia and misogynoir (a term coined by Northeastern University professor Moya Bailey, to define misogyny targeting black women) their deaths are barely covered in the communities where they occur.
At the same time, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been languishing in the Senate since February. Among other provisions, Republicans are wary of closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which would widen bans on firearm purchases beyond current or former spouses convicted of abuse to include dating partners.
Violence against women is not a joke. Still, with Barkley’s latest apology, he’ll move on as if nothing ever happened. And society will allow it. If Barkley, who has occasionally talked about running for public office, does it again, he’ll get away with another “That’s Charles being Charles" finger-wagging. Meanwhile, women who speak up will be tagged as dour scolds — and far worse — when they refuse to find the humor in punchlines about punching women.