If I’m Donald Sterling I’m confused. I’m confused because I said some extremely racially charged things, in what I thought was a private conversation with my girlfriend, and now everyone is killing me over it. I’m confused because in my 33 years of owning the Los Angeles Clippers, nobody has ever had a problem with my bigotry before. After all I was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the NAACP in 2009 and was about to receive another this year.
However, I’m not Donald Sterling and while I’m certain nobody wants to be in his shoes right now I can’t help but feel that all of this must be extremely confusing for the man. The reason of course is how inconsistently we treat racial issues in this country, and everyone is responsible. The journalists, analysts, viewers, and in this specific case the NBA. The truth of the matter is that Donald Sterling’s bigotry, his racism and sexism, predate this internet age that we live in. He was racist long before this, and you know what? Nobody cared. Well, almost nobody cared. It wasn’t until Donald Sterling’s Clippers were actually good and in the limelight, couple with the fact that we live in the sound bite era of the internet and you realize that Sterling’s downfall was years in the making. What is sad about this, the truly regrettable thing, is that everyone should have seen it coming. A few did but more people shouldn’t have been shocked by this.
Sports Illustrated writer Franz Lidz wrote a story on Donald Sterling 14 years ago. The story mostly details the eccentricities of the Clippers owner but was originally supposed to have more bite to it. It was edited down because it “demonized him(Sterling)” which as we know now is ridiculous. If anything, he’s being demonized now because we allowed him to get away behaving like this for years before we finally had a sound bite of him saying it that we could play over and over. The “we” that I’m referring to by the way is a collective “we”. We fans, writers, and the NBA allowed this to continue.
As Bill Simmons poignantly points out in his (vastly superior) column, Sterling was attempting to settle housing discrimination lawsuits in 2003,2006, and 2009. The real world application of Donald Sterling’s outdated beliefs in which he tried to keep Latino-American and African-American tenants from living in his apartments. In his sworn statement of those lawsuits he unleashed some of his most direct racism dropping such bombs as, “it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day” and “that’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean.”
Where was this outrage then? The people that are all up in arms right now, which is most of America at this point, are more delusional than Donald Sterlings wife who at this point is orbiting Pluto in her attempt to distance herself from her husband (like she didn’t know the man she was married to for 50 years was capable of such despicable behavior).
Actually, an a side tangent, Rochelle Sterling wife of Donald Sterling posed as both a health inspector and a government official in an attempt to ascertain the race of her husbands’s tenants. Of course she knew he was racist, because she helped. This is a woman who pretended to be both a health inspector and a government employee, so as to find out exactly what ethnicity her husband’s tenants were.
More to the point, this whole story from beginning to end, has become a depressing ouroboros situation. The joke is on us, as told by us(collective “us” because that’s how I roll). Doc Rivers and Chris Paul forced trades to the Clippers, Blake signed an extension, the fans showed up to the games, and the NBA knew for years that this man was a bigot. All of the outrage is completely reactionary. The constantly recurring sound bite is the reminder that everybody messed up.
None of this is to say that the league’s actions aren’t just. They are. Racism is a hard thing to get out of sports once it’s in. Just look at soccer in Europe, we still have fans throwing bananas at players and other kinds of nonsense. There’s no room for it. It just seems like the NBA is trying to distance itself from the racism of a man it knew to be racist with disproportional outrage and shock that seems like it could come straight out of an Onion News headline. “Racist Man Says Racist Things, League Is Stunned!” Yet here we are pretending like this is a bright day, while we sweep under the rug the sins of the past that could have been averted if only we cared enough. The NBA is a business and it just didn’t care when profit margins weren’t being affected. Now, with sponsors dropping like flies, it seems like a good time to give Donald Sterling the boot that he should have been given years ago.
The next time, and I promise there will be a next time, let’s be prepared to do the right thing. Money and good basketball be damned.