BY AUTHOR JONES
“You cannot move the ball forward if you do not discuss race; and discuss it uncomfortably.” That’s a direct quote from Colin Cowherd – bestselling Author, TV show host, and the host of ESPN’s nationally broadcast radio talk show, “The Herd.” Mr. Cowherd said those words in the wake of the firestorm emanating from Los Angeles after Donald Sterling’s comments were made public.
For those of you unaware, here’s a brief recap. Mr. Sterling is a billionaire business magnate (and former attorney) who happens to own the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise. The team he purchased in 1981 for $12.5 million is now worth perhaps $1 billion. In America, this type of success story makes Mr. Sterling a poster child for the merits of democracy. Unfortunately, he is also a poster child for the racial disparity this great nation is still struggling with.
An audio tape of Mr. Sterling speaking to his girlfriend – identified as V. Stiviano – has him saying these words: “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that… and not to bring them to my games. Don’t put him [Magic Johnson] on Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.” When his girlfriend – who is herself Black and Mexican – reminded Mr. Sterling that the vast majority of the players on his own team are black, he replied: “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?” Facepalm.
Mr. Sterling has a long, documented history of racial charged statements and business practices. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Sterling is currently a married man. Imagine what his wife – Shelly Sterling – must be feeling right now. According to various media reports, she is “devastated” by the “despicable” comments made by her estranged husband. It is also worth mentioning that Mr. Sterling is a registered Democrat in California; and a long-time donor to the Democratic Party there.
Mr. Sterling’s comments have become international news to such an extent, President Obama was peppered with questions about his own feelings on the matter. The President is currently in Malaysia negotiating trade agreements.
Here is how the President responded Sunday from Kuala Lumpur:
“When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything, you just let them talk. That’s what happened here. I have confidence that the NBA’s Commissioner – Adam Silver – a good man, will address this. Obviously, the NBA is a league that is beloved by fans all across the country. It has an awful lot of African-American players, it’s steeped in African American culture. And I suspect that the NBA is going to be deeply concerned in resolving this… the United States continues to wrestle with the legacy of race and slavery and segregation, that’s still there, the vestiges of discrimination. We’ve made enormous strides, but you’re going to continue to see this percolate up every so often. And I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it, teaching our children differently, but also remaining hopeful that part of why statements like this stand out some much is because there has been this shift in how we view ourselves.”
Reactions to the Sterling situation have been swift and far-reaching. National Basketball Association advertisers such as State Farm are pulling their ads. Current and retired NBA players have condemned Mr. Sterling’s comments en masse; demanding sanctions against him from an immediate/indefinite suspension, fines, to a public apology. Some even want Mr. Sterling forced to sell the Clippers franchise.
The Clippers players have already staged a silent protest in opposition to their team’s owner – wearing all black socks, shoes, wrist bands, and arm sleeves. Angry Clippers fans have threaten to boycott the team by not attending the team’s remaining games this season.
There has been deafening silent from all other NBA team owners. Aside from President Obama, there has been a chorus of crickets from national Republican and Democratic leaders. Conservative pied piper Donald Trump weighed in to say that although Mr. Sterling’s comments were “terrible”, he was set up by “the girlfriend from hell.” Yikes.
The Sterling controversy completely overshadows the most competitive and genuinely surprising first round of NBA playoff games in recent memory. The Clippers – who have a legitimate shot of winning the world championship – must deal with this unwelcomed distraction. Even if Mr. Sterling is forced to sell his team, he will still make a mint. If he’s indeed ousted from the NBA, will he have learned anything? Therein lies the paradox.