Obviously, the recording of Donald Sterling’s conversation with his alleged girlfriend was horribly disturbing. (Here’s the audio, if you haven’t heard it yet.) Not only that his viewpoints reflected those of someone living in a different time, but the fact that this was an “educated” man who was in a position of power and great influence by being a lawyer, a real estate tycoon, and an NBA owner, made this even more appalling.
That is, for those who are unfamiliar with Donald Sterling.
Anyone familiar with the Clippers and its owner, however, has heard the stories before, and/or read the discriminatory litigation filed against Sterling as a landlord. But, to hear the actual viewpoints spewed from his mouth in his own words was quite repulsive, to say the least.
The fact that he kept referring to “them” and “they” as people who were calling him — those apparently upset that the woman in the conversation was publicly associating with African-Americans — begs the question: Just how many more like Sterling who are in similar positions of power are out there?
That’s a question I don’t think I want the answer to.
Some people I’ve come across have actually said they don’t really think what Sterling said was that bad, and that he doesn’t necessarily come off as a racist in the recordings. Now, to be fair, he didn’t necessarily spew out racial epithets or come off as a man full of hate who wants to cause harm to African Americans, but he clearly sees black people as inferior and as different from himself — which is the definition of racism and discrimination.
In this day and age, especially in the NBA, those kinds of views simply could not be tolerated.
Fortunately, powerful influences — both from within the league and from outside — voiced their intolerance for such views. The likes of Magic Johnson (who was the main subject of the conversation), NBA legend and current Bobcats’ owner Michael Jordan, current superstars Kobe Bryant & LeBron James, President Barack Obama, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jeanie Buss, former NBA All-Star and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, among many, many others, all strongly disapproved of Sterling’s views and were adamant that he has no place in the NBA.
Following a swift investigation, newly appointed NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, banned Sterling from the Clippers and the NBA for life and imposed a maximum $2.5 million fine. Directly afterwards, Mayors Johnson (Sacramento) and Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles) praised the move, along with Abdul-Jabbar and Steve Nash, who spoke on behalf of current players (Magic Johnson, who was not in L.A., also voiced his approval via Twitter).
The decision was widely accepted and praised around the league, and well received around the country as well.
However, the fact that this has come to light just reminds us that racism is ever-present in our society, and is still a huge problem in various different institutions — whether subtle or blatant. Many associate ignorance with those who are uneducated and perhaps not as exposed to other individual’s ways of life, but this disproves all of that. Here’s a man who lives in Los Angeles — one of the biggest melting pots in the world — and who is an (academically) educated person in a position of great power, who clearly has a view from an ancient age and does not see all races as equal. He’s certainly not the first case of this and won’t be the last.
The positive to take away from all of this was the swift disapproval and condemnation that Sterling’s comments received from others in various different positions of power — regardless of racial background. From those who spoke out, the disgust was unanimous and it was made clear that this type of behavior would not only be unacceptable for a league predominantly consisting of African-Americans, but for our society in general.
The discussion of race — and all equality, for that matter — needs to be consistent and continuous in order to make progress, and hopefully this ugly incident reminds us of that. I say “incident,” but clearly this has been decades of despicable behavior, which has been proverbially swept under the rug or at least ignored for much too long. That is why, hopefully, we can all learn from this and learn to attack discrimination at its first sign, rather than waiting for decades before action is finally taken against it. Sterling was an easy target because of his history and the fact that his conversation leaked into the media and social media. Everyone had an opinion on it, and that opinion was virtually unanimous and the “correct” one: In one way or another, regardless of the degree people felt Sterling was guilty, he was guilty of something.
The challenge now, for all of us, is to take those views we felt so strongly about and implement them into our daily lives. This means speaking up or letting our feelings be known when we see something we don’t think of as “right.” This means voicing our displeasure with injustice in person, rather than behind 140 characters on the internet. As NBA fans, our idols and role models — past and present — found the courage to do it, even though some had spoken up long before this ugly instance (Elgin Baylor and Baron Davis, in particular).
The way in which this “black eye” for the league was handled is quite remarkable, and should serve as precedence for the eradication of all discrimination. In that sense, this embarrassing instance can be seen as a “blessing in disguise” and a learning experience for all. The way in which individuals widely banded together to protest a belief they strongly disagreed with was incredibly empowering and sent the message that, “We will not stand for this. We will stand together. As one.”
Now, it’s on all of us to do it in our daily lives, without the world watching.
Kobe Bryant Responds To Sterling’s Racist Comments, ‘Should Not’ Own The Clippers