The NBA banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life on Tuesday and fined him $2.5 million for racist comments he made on audio recordings that leaked to the media over the weekend. According to multiple outlets, Sterling’s glaring racism has caused many problems over the years, but has somehow gotten pushed under the rug until now.
TMZ released 15 minutes of recorded conversation between Sterling and his girlfriend, in which he reprimands her for bringing black friends to the games and posting pictures with them to her Instagram account. After the response to the recordings gained so much momentum this weekend, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was forced to make a decision on Sterling’s fate with the league which, not to mention, is more than 80 percent black.
“You’re supposed to be a delicate white or a delicate Latina girl,” Sterling says on the tape. “Yeah it bothers me a lot that you want to promo broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”
Although Sterling did not know he was being recorded, his First Amendment rights were not violated because they concerned the private organization for which he does business. And, no, the defense that he is 80 years old and grew up in a “different era in America,” as some may argue, does not excuse his racist sentiments either.
The league will look to force Sterling to sell the team, which requires three-quarters approval from other owners in the NBA. Sterling has owned the Clippers for more than 32 years, which is the longest tenure of any NBA owner. On the Clippers, 12 of the 14 men on the current roster are black. Based on the severity of his remarks, it leaves one to think that if the man hates black people so much, why has he involved himself with basketball? Wouldn’t a sport that is primarily white, such as hockey, seem better suited for him? As an owner of the team, Sterling does not generally need to interact with the players, their game, morale and strategy — that job belongs to head coach Doc Rivers, who also happens to be a black man.
The combination of Sterling’s position of power and outlook on the race of his employees is uncomfortably reminiscent of the slave-era mentality, in which it was okay to have black people work for you, but by no means associate with them. Or, as Sterling told his girlfriend, “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.”
On Sunday, members of the Clippers walked out on the court for their game against the Golden State Warriors with their warm-ups turned inside out. However, consistent with the slave-era analogy, a Monday Gawker article argued that the players’ protest against Sterling’s remarks was cowardly compared to the boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement.
“I think humans are cowards. Most of us. I think that regardless of where one’s phenotype places them within the imaginary concept of race, that the majority of us are content to live on our knees rather than die on our feet,” the article stated. “If every NBA player who wanted to stand up against racism vowed not to play until the Clippers’ owner resigned, it would be announced that he resigned before you were finished reading this. If he didn’t want to, someone would make him,” the article stated.
According to the article, money and fame is not a valid justification for enduring something that is clearly wrong. But, at the same time, if the players didn’t play the game, it would have become an unfair punishment to themselves. By not playing, the players would be the ones reversing all of their hard work and hurting their chance at advancing in the playoffs, and they would also be the ones letting down their fans. If anything, that just seems like a victory for Sterling and his bigotry.
In any business such as the NBA, it could be argued that personal opinions and sentiments should be cast aside in the interest of profits and service. But, in reality, it is almost impossible to argue that blatant racism is ever acceptable. So, good move, Mr. Silver, for finally eradicating Sterling and his racist sentiments from the NBA — this action has been long overdue. And thank you, Mr. Sterling, for pushing the much-needed discussion around race in America.