Charles Barkley apologized on Wednesday morning for telling a female reporter, “I don’t hit women, but if I did, I would hit you.”
The NBA Hall of Famer directed what he called a “joke” on Tuesday night to Axios election correspondent Alexi McCammond, who was in Atlanta to cover Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate. McCammond said Barkley had initially expressed support for former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, only to claim he was a fan of South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg when a member of Buttigieg’s campaign was within earshot.
“I reminded him he previously said he was a Deval fan,” McCammond tweeted, which prompted Barkley’s retort.
McCammond, who acknowledged breaking an off-the-record agreement by sharing the encounter, said Barkley responded to her objection by saying that she “couldn’t take a joke”. She added: “The comments Charles Barkley made to me are not acceptable. Threats of violence are not a joke, & no person deserves to be hit or threatened like that. Silence only allows the culture of misogyny to fester. And those kinds of comments don’t merit off-the-record protections.”
On Wednesday, Barkley described the remark as “inappropriate and unacceptable” in a statement issued by Turner Sports on his behalf. “It was an attempted joke that wasn’t funny at all,” the statement read. “There’s no excuse for it and I apologize.”
Barkley is no stranger to controversy, having traded on his anti-hero image during his playing days in a memorable 1993 ad campaign for Nike in which he declared: “I am not a role model”.
“I am paid to wreak havoc on a basketball court,” Barkley said. “Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
The forward found himself in hot water while playing on the Philadelphia 76ers for similarly making light of domestic violence after a close win over the New Jersey Nets in 1990. “This is a game that if you lose, you go home and beat your wife and kids,” he said. “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.”
However, the Inside the NBA analyst has at times leveraged his platform to speak out against domestic violence across sports. In 2014, Barkley criticized the NFL’s handling of violence against women, calling for both the NFL and NBA to hand down a lifetime ban for any player, coach, executive or owner who commits a second offense.
“They dropped the ball on this domestic violence thing,” Barkley said at the time. “I am very disappointed in [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell and [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice Smith. What they should have done is very simple: The first time you hit a woman, you get suspended. You let the legal process play out but you are suspended. The second time you hit a woman you are banned for life.”