Charles Barkley Weight Watchers campaign: Hall of Famer a role model for black men

Charles Barkley never wanted to be a role model. The NBA Hall of Famer made that much clear in his 1993 Nike commercial where he famously said, “I am not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models.”

He hasn’t been paid to “wreak havoc on the basketball court” since he retired in 2000, but given his penchant for gambling and excessive drinking, he didn’t much care to become a role model in his post-NBA career.

Now, he appears to be changing his mind. Having struggled with issues of his weight since he was a teenager, his giving him claim to the nickname “Round Mound of Rebound,” Barkley is now a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and has slimmed down considerably his TNT colleagues once celebrated his birthday with a cake made out of Krispy Kreme donuts.


In new ads that premiered at the start of the NBA season this past weekend, Barkley says, “I am still not a role model. But maybe I can change that. Maybe if I tell you I’m losing weight and getting healthy, you’d see that you can too.” It’s a far cry from his days technical fouls and bar fights with no sense of responsibility.

Barkley doesn’t mention black men explicitly in the commercial, but as a well known and respected figure in the black community, Sir Charles, as he is sometimes called, sets an example for other black men who don’t typically receive an anti-obesity/pro-health message. It’s a different world from what is said of black women, whose bodies are often ruthlessly scrutinized and ridiculed, while black men’s large size is overlooked or at times celebrated.

As a community, we embrace nicknames for large black men such as “Round Mound of Rebound,” “Big Boy,” or “The Notorious B.I.G.,” while turning a blind eye to the potential health risks that come with an obesity epidemic.

As of 2009, 63 percent of black men in this country are considered obese. When heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are three of the top ten causes of death in black men and these issues are only exasperated by obesity, we need to do more to discuss this very serious problem.

Barkley’s recent willingness to become a role model for weight loss is an example to be followed like that of Reverend Al Sharpton. The civil right activist and MSNBC host was once widely known for not just his outspoken nature, street activism, and James Brown inspired hairdo, but also for his girth.

In the late 1980s, he led marches weighing in over 300 pounds, but has slimmed downed considerably as of late, shedding more than 100 pounds. “You can’t address our issues and demand social justice when you are a prisoner in your own body, and you can’t have a reckless social life when you are looking for social justice,” said in a recent article here on theGrio.

While recognizing the need to shift attitudes around healthy living, Sharpton also pointed out the obstacles that sometimes impede that desire, noting, “plenty of times in our neighborhoods you can’t even get a salad. You have to cross the tracks and go downtown to get a nutritious meal. We’ll never be healthy as a people until we take our communities back.”

Food deserts are all too common in black neighborhoods, with low access to fresh produce and an abundance of unhealthy fast food options becoming the norm. Documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt (Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes) is set to explore this, and black people’s love of high fat, high sugar, high salt foods and the health consequences of that love in his upcoming film Soul Food Junkies.

In the meantime, Sharpton and Barkley are using their platforms to speak out about an epidemic that touches the lives of far too many in our community. It’s true that obesity is a problem for all of America, but African-Americans 1.4 times more likely to be obese than their white counterparts, it’s imperative we take control of this issue in our community. And it won’t help if we continue to scrutinize and shame black women for their size while exonerating black men. More everyday Barkleys will have to step up to the plate and become role models for health living.