Every week, like something out of an incredibly boring slasher film, LIV Golf picks off a few more people.
Right after the British Open ended, it got statistically average Scandinavian Henrik Stenson. Then it was hardest working Leprechaun in showbiz, David Feherty. And then two other guys I’d never heard of and have already forgotten.
That Saudi money is already having trouble finding worthwhile names to waste itself on. If you’re not doing anything, maybe try hanging around the first-class lounge at Riyadh’s airport with a bag of clubs and a flat cap. Who knows what might happen?
But midweek, LIV spotted a great whale off the starboard bow. Or rather, the whale spotted it.
Out of nowhere, Charles Barkley announced that LIV CEO Greg Norman had taken him out to lunch. Apparently, there’s been no concrete job offer or mention of a dollar figure. It’s not even clear what Barkley would do for it. But this is the closest LIV has got to real HR news in a while.
Despite all the moaning from PGA loyalists, LIV hasn’t done much to make real inroads into normal golfing business. Are you going to drop everything on a Thursday to watch Brooks Koepka speed golf his way around some second-rate course in Bangkok? Probably not.
But Barkley changes the equation.
I would spend four hours listening to Charles Barkley read a phonebook. Barkley doesn’t really ‘broadcast.’ Instead, he rambles fascinatingly. The less he knows about what he’s dealing with, the more fun he is to listen to. He may be the last interesting American.
He’s also apparently the greatest negotiator on Earth.
What do you do when you have an employer and are in the process of having a foot run up your leg under the table by another one? Most people keep it a secret until they know which way they’re leaning. That’s negotiation checkers.
Barkley is playing three-dimensional negotiation chess. He’s out in public daring everyone to give him more money. That includes both employers and all of his sponsors.
“Between the number you just mentioned [the US$10-million he is paid per year to do basketball commentary by Turner Sports] and all my commercials, for me to risk all of that, it would have to be some serious money thrown my way,” Barkley told the New York Post.
How serious is serious? A few weeks back, musing on the same topic, Barkley told another interviewer he would “kill a relative” for US$200-million.
This is the sports business as it is, rather than as it would like you to think of it. It is rapacious and venal. It has nothing to do with fairness or good works. It’s about getting as much as you can while you are able to get it.
Someone tried the ‘blood money’ argument with Barkley. He batted that away with the merest movement of a hand.
“We have all taken blood money and we all have sportswashed something, so I don’t like those words,” Barkley said. “If you are in pro sports, you are taking some type of money from not a great cause.”
Barkley in his inimitable Barkley way has put a thumb down hard on the key hypocrisy of modern sports. Everyone wants to be seen to be doing good, while also becoming monstrously rich. The two things are incompatible.
As Gertrude Stein once said of art, just as it was starting to becoming a commodities trade: “You can be a museum or you can be modern, but you can’t be both.”
In this world, you can be staggeringly rich or you can be an altruist. There are no saints who fly private.
I don’t want to give the Saudi backers of LIV any credit for philosophy, but this is the malign brilliance of their plan. If you want to be angry at LIV, then you have to be angry at every other sports league in the world as well.
Still, someone in a position of authority needed to say it out loud. Barkley just did.
What is the difference between taking the money direct or working in Saudi Arabia, or China, or Russia? Just about every high-profile modern athlete has done it one way or the other. And the ones who haven’t can only say that because no one’s offered them the chance.
Lionel Messi shills for Saudi Arabian tourism. Lewis Hamilton races in Saudi Arabia. Every member of Newcastle United plays for Saudi Arabia.
The only way to cut this knot is by removing the riches. Every other sort of equality movement is popping up in sport right now. Where’s the push for economic equality at?
Not equality as in ‘making as much as this or that higher-paid peer in a better-funded league.’ Equality as in ‘making as much as your average plumber.’ You don’t hear so much about that movement.
It’s taken as a given that sports should perfectly represent the audience who watches it. Except for the pay scale.
In order to keep pushing the dollars up, ethical corners may have to be cut. But we don’t talk about that. We pretend everyone can stay clean, even when they can’t.
Barkley is the rare cat who will say it out loud. He’s so bold that he’s taking public bids.
Where’s the outrage now? It’s nowhere to be found. Because if you want to take Barkley on on this one, you had better have your own house in order. And as he says, everyone’s hands are dirty.
This doesn’t make Barkley laudable. It makes him honestly greedy as opposed to dishonestly so. That’s as close as we’re going to get to the wisdom of Solomon these days.
But every time an athlete feels the need to pop off about human rights, they might first meditate on Barkley’s advice to himself: “I don’t want to practise selective outrage.”
Then, having thought about what morality means to them, they might want to hire Barkley as their agent.