NBA analyst Charles Barkley has drawn criticism after saying on Thursday night that athletes in the NBA, NHL and NFL should get preferential treatment in getting the COVID-19 vaccine strictly for financial reasons.
The NBA Hall of Famer spoke on TNT's "Inside the NBA" about why he thinks professional athletes should get to essentially cut the line to get vaccinated as the nation currently prioritizes health care and essential workers as well as people 65 and older who are at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications.
Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.
"We need 300 million shots ... give a thousand to some NBA players, NFL players, hockey players," Barkley said on the show. “As much taxes as these players pay — let me repeat that — as much taxes as these players pay, they deserve some preferential treatment."
Fellow analyst Kenny Smith seemed stunned.
"For life and death?" Smith asked about the preferential treatment, to which Barkley replied, "Yes."
Smith then tried to tell Barkley that taxes are based on how much money you make.
"I said taxes. I didn’t say the amount of money you make," Barkley said. "I said the amount of taxes these guys pay."
"We can’t go there," Smith said. "I don’t think you can go there."
Longtime host Ernie Johnson also pushed back on Barkley's statements, stressing that the older population and those at a higher risk should be given priority for vaccination.
"A thousand shots to NBA players is not going to change the world," Barkley maintained.
His comments drew a swift backlash.
"I am not sure what Charles Barkley was smoking implying that because sports players pay more in taxes that they should be allow to get the vaccine," one person tweeted. "No, they need to wait just like everybody else. They are not more important than essential workers or me."
"This isn't only an inhumane take from Charles Barkley — our frontline workers and high-risk population should get the vaccine first, not healthy pro athletes — but it isn’t even factual," filmmaker Adam Best tweeted. "Working-class people sometimes pay a higher effective tax rate than the 1%."
TODAY has reached out to Barkley for comment.
The nationwide vaccine rollout has been slowed by limited supplies, logistical difficulties and more issues. States have been administering the vaccine in phases, meaning that only certain people can get the shot right now, with differences from state to state.
Before the current season started, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN that the league would not be trying to get preferential treatment for its athletes to get the vaccine ahead of others.
"There's no way we'd ever jump the line in any form whatsoever," Silver said. "And, for the most part, because our players are so young and healthy without some sort of comorbidity, they will not be a high priority for vaccinations. There are some other members of the NBA community working on court who are older and will have a higher priority to get the vaccine.
"We will very likely be part of some public service campaigns, we already talked to the CDC and other federal agencies about that, encouraging people to get vaccinated when it is appropriate. But up until then, we will just be watching and waiting."
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith made similar comments last month on a conference call with reporters.
"When it comes to the vaccine, we will never jump the line or do anything that would take away resources from those people who need it first and foremost,” Smith said, according to Yahoo! Sports. "And I’m pretty sure, well, I know, the league feels exactly the same way."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the same thing for his league as the season gets underway.
"We're going to get in line with everybody else," he told reporters recently. "There was never any thought about us jumping the line, or anything like that."