About 25 years ago, Charles Barkley starred in an iconic commercial in which he declared that he should not be regarded as a role model. With his on-point recent remarks about Fox News hack Laura Ingraham’s rhetorical assault on LeBron James, perhaps we should in fact regard Barkley as a role model:

In today’s charged political environment, sports is no longer an escape from issues that divide the country.

This became apparent during NBA All-Star Weekend, when the typically jocular “NBA on TNT” crew used five minutes of Saturday night’s broadcast to address Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s controversial comments regarding LeBron James and Kevin Durant…

As [host Ernie] Johnson, who appeared visibly frustrated as he spoke about Ingraham’s comments, continued his thoughts, analyst Charles Barkley started to chuckle.

Barkley is no stranger to voicing his political opinions, recently endorsing Democrat Doug Jones in his successful Senate campaign in Alabama over Republican Roy Moore. But he was more amused than offended by Ingraham’s criticism. To him, neither Ingraham nor Fox News should be taken seriously.

“Ernie, don’t get emotional with Fox News,” Barkley said. “Fox News do what they do. Nobody pays attention to Fox News except people who voted for Donald Trump. …

“First of all, LeBron James is LeBron James,” he continued. “That would’ve been the first thing that I said. Who’s Laura Ingraham? If she was in this crowd right now we wouldn’t know her. If LeBron James walks around, these people be mobbing him, but Fox News do what they do. I laugh. Sometimes, when I want humor, I turn on Fox News.”

“You didn’t find shut up and dribble offensive as it could possibly be?” Johnson asked.

Barkley doubled down, saying that, “if someone is trying to make me mad, I’m not going to get mad. She did exactly what she wanted to do.”

You know it has to drive right-wingers crazy to hear these words from Barkley, an ex-Republican. Barkley is right: James is bigger, in terms of both celebrity status and character, than the copycat Coulter who wants him to “shut up and dribble.”

Ingraham’s ignorant invective is reminiscent of the foolish remarks of her former Fox News colleague Megyn Kelly regarding Jane Fonda’s anti-Vietnam War activism. Fonda’s actions to stop the war may have been controversial, but those actions saved lives. The celebrities who stood up against the Iraq War fifteen years ago also tried to save lives–only to be told by the likes of Ingraham to keep quiet.

There is a mentality in right-wing America that if you’re a person of color who becomes prosperous in the United States, you should keep quiet, vote Republican and be grateful that you’re not in a “shithole country.” It never occurs to these right-wingers that wealthy people of color–or wealthy whites such as Tom Steyer, for that matter–can be passionately concerned and vocal about social injustices, instead of ignoring those injustices (or becoming obsessed with fake injustices).

Ingraham and others of her ilk resent the fact that James doesn’t simply smile, dance and go on his happy way. (Think of the current controversy over the depiction of African-American men on the WWE programming produced by Trump’s buddy Vince McMahon.) James is not the sort of person who will kneel in subservience to appease right-wingers. Barkley stopped being that sort of person years ago. When Barkley and James condemn Ingraham’s idiocy, they’re not being partisan liberals. They’re just being fair and balanced.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.