“Am I entitled to one mistake after 35 years?” -Donald Sterling, being interviewed by Anderson Cooper
As I was sitting down to lunch, a coworker yelled from across the room, Donald Sterling owner of the LA Clippers had been banned for life for racist statements made during a phone call to his girlfriend, and fined $2.5 million. I was shocked. Banned for life? I couldn’t recall the National Basketball Association ever levying such a judgment against anybody. The closest parallel would be the story of Marge Schott, former owner the Cincinatti Reds, and dedicated racist. Even after making favorable comments about Hitler, did not receive a lifetime ban.
When Dennis Rodman crab kicked a camera man in the groin he earned himself a suspension of 10 games. When Latrell Sprewell choked his coach and threatened to kill him, he was suspended for the duration of that season or 68 games. When Ron Artest went full beast mode in Detroit back in 2004, he was exiled for a record 86 games, and we have him on camera throwing a haymaker at a fan.
It would seem like nothing short of a miscarriage of justice or bias of some sort when Sterling was stripped of his ownership and taken for the maximum financial penalty.
As much as it can be nearly universally agreed that Sterling’s views are reprehensible and have no place in the 21st century, at the bottom of it all Sterling did was make some racist comments to his girlfriend, in private. His phone conversations were Linda Tripped and he blackmailed by TMZ. This is a private matter. He got taken for his job and his property.
When I first heard about the penalty, I felt the ground rumbling with the outrage engines of a thousand pundits and writers in the right-wing media blogo/radiosphere; and I was ready to join them. I imagined the kind of gut-twisting fury would be pushing the bile out of my throat if an owner with views I shared had their life dismantled by an Orwellian witch hunt who exposed their most private interactions and exposed them to a public ravenous for scandal and misconduct. NeoMcCarthyism, it would be called of course.
It most recently evokes the plight of the Dixie Chicks who were nearly run out of the country by a coordinated assault after anti-war statements in London.But this was different. Sterling was a victim of a spy operation; and his punishment by first-year commissioner Adam Silver
Primarily, and I cannot stress this enough, even if he hadn’t made those comments, he still would deserve to lose his team. The biggest mistake one could make in analyzing this still-developing story would be to equivocate Sterling’s remarks to any other public relations blunder.
For example this genius:
Justine Sacco made stupid mistake that cost her her job. She should have known better and suffered the consequences case closed.
Sterling’s comments on the other hand exposed (in reality made it impossible to sweep under the carpet) a well-documented and far more disturbing pattern of racist behavior that made his continuing relationship with the NBA and it’s players, especially his own, impossible.
As a real estate developer, Sterling was sued twice for housing discrimination in the Los Angeles area. ESPN journalist Bomani Jones documented Sterling’s discrimination against Blacks, Latinos and Koreans as early as 2006. Once the story of the phone recordings broke, he explained why his behavior should have been a story nearly a decade ago in this video.
If you don’t have the ten minutes to watch, make the time, if you still can’t, I’ll summarize. Housing discrimination is a problem, because it keeps minorities locked into high-crime neighborhoods. It tells hard-working minorities that their ambition is pointless. It creates prisons out of city blocks and costs lives. Housing discrimination is anti-capitalist and un-American. It flies blindly in the face of our core principles as citizens of this country and human beings. It denies the notion of all men being created equal and that we are entitled to the pursuit of happiness.
If there is one place in the world that you cannot afford to be a white man who stomps on the aspirations of hard-working minorities, it is the National Basketball Association; and the players let it be known.
Aside from the highly symbolic, pre-game, uniform protests, the specter of player walkout loomed realistically over the playoffs. The Clippers played horribly in their first outing after the comments were made public. The whole affair threatened the game.
You can have basketball without the owners, general managers, coaches and commissioner, the players can get together and play on street courts and school gyms. You cannot, however, have a game without the players. Without them, there is merely a set of empty buildings and seats with nobody to watch. At the end of the day the players made their voices heard.
This does open up a larger debate about the nature of sports ownership, the nature of profit sharing and who is really responsible for the league’s success, but it is a conversation best left elsewhere.
Is Sterling entitled to one mistake? No. There is no entitlement to anything in America anymore. In the wake of the comments and banishment, there were many commentators spanning the full spectrum of politics who immediately came out to voice their extreme concern over the way that Sterling’s private conversations were used for personal destruction. However I don’t feel sorry for Donald sterling.
Far nobler people have suffered far worse punitive retribution for far less-severe crimes.
History has forgotten that in the past Sterling was a terrible NBA owner. His cheap hand buried the Clippers for years and relegated them to minor-league status as the “other LA team.” His behavior as a real estate developer should rank him as one of modern history’s most despotic bigots. Many articles have decried “what happened to Donald Sterling.” Nothing happened to Donald Sterling. Donald Sterling reaped the consequences of years of misconduct that finally caught up with him.
Adam Silver has received praise for his decisive action in the matter. He doesn’t deserve it. It was the easiest decision he will have to make. There are no winners in this affair; not Sterling nor Silver.
At the end of the day, Donald Sterling will probably have to sell his team for mid nine figures. I find it hard to find any sympathy for him.