I’m puzzled by all of this furor that exploded this weekend involving Los Angeles Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling. Yes, his taped comments are reprehensible and dastardly. (I like that word when dealing with classic silent movie bad guys, which in all the pictures of Sterling, he appears to fit the bill although he lacks the requisite handle-bar mustache) But as we have heard ad nauseum, Sterling is not a born again racist. This wasn’t an overnight conversion. As the media has trumpeted, Sterling has a long history of racial discrimination. There are lawsuits, one of them filed by the federal government, detailing Sterling’s discriminatory practices in real estate and business. Former employees like Elgin Baylor have tried to sue him for, wait for it, racial discrimination! This guy didn’t need a hood, nor did he need to sneak into a particular neighborhood under the cover of darkness to burn a cross on someone’s lawn.
This racist hid in plain sight in front of 18,000 people at an NBA basketball game!
And apparently, it was a not-so-well-kept secret among many people here in Los Angeles.
So if everyone knew Donald Sterling was a racist, why is this story breaking now? And a follow up question, who stands to gain from the whole kerfuffle? I mean, even the girlfriend with the tape recorder says she didn’t leak the recording, and in fact, she has said Sterling allegedly knew his comments were being recorded. So what gives?
And to add a touch of irony to the proceedings, the NAACP announced today in a tweet that it will not be awarding Sterling any lifetime achievement awards next month. Phew! I’m glad they caught that in time before the plaque was engraved. As Kevin Roderick said on NPR today, these awards are never given out based on merit. It is all about the money. Sterling writes a lot of checks to charity, probably to give himself some income tax relief, and until this firestorm erupted, every one of them was cashed, I’m sure. When things go public, everyone grows a conscience.
This guy should get the boot from the NBA just on principle: most of his employees are black and he obviously hates people of color, or at least doesn’t want them in the crowd at games or living in his real estate holdings or posing in pictures with his girlfriend (although he did approve sleeping with them if she should choose to do so, which to me is a bit confusing coming from a racist).
But there is a bigger question that must be answered: if everyone knew this guy was a raving bigot, why didn’t someone take decisive action before now? Money. If you have money, you can pay for your ignorant views, your impolite beliefs, your moral failures by slipping a little cash under the doors of some charity or political campaign. It is amazing the silence that can be bought for some moola.
It is also interesting to note that no one had a problem with Sterling until the Clippers were in serious playoff contention. Over the last few seasons, the franchise has undoubtedly become quite a wealthy organization. So no one cared when they were the laughingstock of the league, but now that they are contenders and bringing in the big bucks, Sterling is a racist and must be run out of the NBA? Something does not add up here.
A year ago, I wrote about the Clippers and how I was rooting for them. I like the underdog, and I was rooting for them this year, too. I could not understand why no one gave them any respect, even with the way they have been playing. In this town, everything is Lakers, Lakers, Lakers. The Clippers have shown far more gumption and less dysfunction on the court than their hoity-toity co-tenants at the Staples Center. The Lakers are the golden boys while the Clippers are the ugly stepbrothers. Just once, I wanted the other L.A. team to at least get into the finals. Now, with all of this distraction, I think it’s already over. And I don’t know if I want them to win or even show up for the next game, because every ticket sold, every beer, every jersey, and of course, every victory puts money in Sterling’s pocket. But this is not a problem that will be solved easily. Sterling will not go quietly. Ignoramuses rarely know when to take their lumps and slink off into the sunset. We know this here in Los Angeles after the Frank McCourt debacle.
It is too easy to simply come out against Sterling and condemn racism. It is too easy to commandeer the podium at the news conference and express outrage. All the politicians from mayors to presidents have made it clear this weekend that racism must be stopped. Tell us something we don’t know. But there is more to this story, you can bet on it. Yes, Sterling should be forced out as a team owner; yes, he should be penalized financially; yes, the fans are owed something for supporting the team and unknowingly lining the pockets of a bigot. But what about all the people who knew what Sterling was like, the views he espoused, and continued to look the other way for the almighty dollar? Given the often morally questionable behavior that is rampant in professional sports, those who have stayed quiet over the years are just as culpable. The whole thing is a cesspool, and the city and Clippers fans must put up with the stench.