Not exactly a sterling silver end to racism5/7/2014
People who enjoy viewing with alarm or pointing with pride had a field day with the soap opera and showdown involving the National Basketball Association and its face-off with the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
First there was widespread surprise and alarm that the team owner, Donald Sterling, 80, told an attractive “female associate” that while it might be acceptable for her to sleep with black guys, she should never bring them to Clipper basketball games.
The sports world and the rest of us were agog. Whoever heard of a rich old white guy being a bigot?
Then, facing a threatened boycott by NBA teams at the pinnacle of the season — the playoffs — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took action. He fined Sterling $2.5 million, banned him for life from the NBA and said he would force Sterling to sell the Clippers. Not only that, but there were faint hopes for a “happily ever after” ending if the Clippers were sold to, say, the celebrated Magic Johnson, who happened to be the black guy whose presence with Vanessa Stiviano so unhinged Sterling. (Even Oprah Winfrey surfaced in the rumors about prospective new owners.)
Maybe banning Sterling from the NBA for 40 years would be harsher than banning him merely for the rest of his life, and while the $2.5 million fine is the highest allowed by the NBA it is about one-quarter of 1 percent of Sterling’s net worth, .0025 in decimal terms.
But talk about pointing with pride!
Christine Brennan, a sports writer for USA Today, proclaimed: “The era of leniency and looking the other way in…professional sports…has met its match…”
Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and now mayor of Sacramento and an owner of the NBA Sacramento Kings, declared, “I believe that today stands as one of those great moments where sports once again transcends, where sports provides a place for fundamental change on how our country should think and act.”
We haven’t seen so much celebration about the end of racism in America since, well since that black guy — you know, the one from Kenya — was elected President in 2008. Indeed, “the end of racism” occurs about as often as “the game of the century.”
In the course of the soap opera/showdown, however, a few other items surfaced:
• Every sports writer who had ever written anything about the NBA now hastened to point out that everyone knew Sterling was a jerk, and maybe a bigot, from the time he bought the Clippers in 1981, making him the longest-tenured NBA owners. In 2009, Sterling paid a $2.73 million settlement in a housing-discrimination complaint brought by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of African-Americans and Latinos and families with children he didn’t want on his property. So to quote a line from the old comic strip Pogo “What’s so Stop Press!” about Sterling’s latest rant?
• Your ever vigilant press, not bothering to read the NBA bylaws, reported that Silver could not force Sterling to sell the Clippers because he did not have the same power as the commissioners of football and baseball. Undaunted, Silver has read the bylaws and found that if 75 percent (or 23 of the 30 NBA owners) want Sterling to be gone he will be.
• A measure of sanity had its day. Kevin Blackistone, a national sports columnist and frequent ESPN panelist, pointed out that Sterling’s bigotry against minority group families seeking housing was more egregious than his rant about whom Ms. Stiviano is seen with.
In Sports Illustrated, Franz Lidz observed that the NBA obsessed more about player dress codes than Sterling’s escapades and bigotry. Former Commissioner David Stern made player personnel rulings that favored Sterling and helped his team get into the playoffs this year.
So despite Brennan’s rosy take on the Sterling-Silver episode and the fantasized end of big money accommodating racism, bigotry is with us to stay.
In the fight against it, we can savor occasional victories and the apparent justice meted out in this episode.
It is progress, you know. CV
Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.