NBA

Donald Sterling: Who Deserves The Real Blame?

The National Basketball Association (NBA) was in the midst of the best first round of playoff basketball in my lifetime (maybe ever) when this Donald Sterling story hit.  It has been a real shame.  A tape surfaced (via TMZ) with Sterling spewing hate and bigotry that included him not wanting his girlfriend to associate with any more black people.  He also went on to say other overtly racist things such as:

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? Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?

It is an unpopular sentiment, but the real person to blame is us.  That means all of us who has taken a stance on this issue, without even a hint of reflection or dissection.  We are to blame, and we need to take responsibility for our actions just as Sterling needs to take responsibility for his.  Before I go any further, I probably should give the obligatory “I don’t agree with his stance and actions, and in fact find them to be loathsome and almost irreparable.”  Sterling is a racist.  Always has been, probably always will be.  I will in no way ever celebrate or defend bad actions and poor judgment.  I will however echo the sentiments of TNT’s Kenny Smith and say that we can’t regulate hate with more hate.

I personally have been discriminated against in far worse situations than this, and my opinions are based on life experiences, not emotional knee-jerking.  The fact that I even have to give these disclaimers makes my point:  There is no forum for open and honest discussion about this story.

The pitchforks are out, the ropes are tied, and the public is ready for their lynching.  We don’t want to examine how we got here, where we have been, and more importantly where we are going.  We heard a man on a recording say some hateful things, and we want blood – Period.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars, and for God’s sake, do not write anything that deviates from public sentiment.  We are in the midst of a groupthink rollercoaster with no highs and lows, just a straight line to what we perceive is justice.  It’s only a rollercoaster because we need the thrill of fast-paced public outrage where our manifestation of disgust is only 140 characters away.

It seems as though the world only got mad when a popular millionaire’s feelings got hurt.

I hate to sound callous, but as soon as the public heard that Sterling had asked his girlfriend to remove a photo of Magic Johnson and herself from her personal Instagram account, outrage ensued.  Johnson is one of my favorite basketball players ever.  I’m not saying that in a facetious manner… I really mean it.  Up until I discovered Chris Webber in 1992, I thought there was no other basketball player in the world to root for, other than Johnson.  I was devastated by his HIV announcement.  As a young child I rooted for his success at the 1992 All-Star game where he seemed to validate all of the time and energy I had invested in him during my short life.  I was equally happy to see him have success in the business field, after his playing career was over.  That doesn’t mean I’ll blindly follow his lead.

Johnson vowed on Twitter to never attend, watch, or support the Clippers in any way, shape, or form.  In my opinion, Johnson has over two million Twitter followers and has to be more responsible than that.  Why not use his fame, fortune and accompanying power for something good, rather than wasting it on a personal grievance?  Sure, it can be argued that Johnson was appalled by Sterling’s views on race, but if that was the case, he would have tweeted something when Sterling was accused of (and in 2006 settled a lawsuit for) housing discrimination.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2006 Sterling paid 2.725 million to settle a suit in which he was alleged to have discriminated against “African Americans, Hispanics and families with children at scores of apartment buildings he owns in and around Los Angeles.”  We get so caught up in the forest that we neglect the trees.  A lot of situations that we think are race-based topics really are about class and economic status.  The poor are at a considerable disadvantage in our society.  I believe it is the responsibility of those in power to speak for those without.  That is what this country is founded on.  We elect representatives.  They are supposed to be a representation of the people as a whole.

Somehow our political system has become something else, and thus it falls on the rich and/or famous people to reach back and pick up the people who are being dropped by the waste side.  Where was the outrage for those who couldn’t get housing?  Those people aren’t millionaires.  They don’t have millions of Twitter followers.  They have (had) no chance against one racist billionaire.  That story should have gotten more publicity.  The NBA should have made a bigger deal out of it then.  Instead, the nation gets up in arms because the beloved Magic Johnson was the target of the billionaire’s bigotry.  Where are our priorities?

Now Sterling has gone on television (interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper) and challenged Johnson’s commitment to minorities because of the way he contracted the HIV virus.  This is a slap my forehead moment if I’ve ever seen one.  What is Sterling doing?  Comments like that will only make things worse.  Sterling clearly hasn’t figured out that this man’s (Johnson) popularity is too great and his (Sterling) own popularity is too small to make such comments.  Besides that, Johnson has probably shed more awareness and done more good for people who have, has had, and may have a chance of ever contracting this deadly disease.  Johnson’s work in that area is above reproach.  Period.

Sterling clearly lacks of self-awareness, but given how he’s been allowed to get away with things for so long, why would he ever want to be aware.  There has been no greater evidence of our enabling than the NAACP L.A. chapter.

According to CNN, Sterling was given a Lifetime Achievement Award and the “L.A. chapter presented Sterling with the award in 2009, and was planning to do so again,” which is unbelievable.  Given this man’s history, what could they be thinking?  Why even have the NAACP or any organization like it, if their man objective isn’t going to be looking out for the welfare of those who can’t look out for themselves?  I feel like the only sane person in a sea of criminally insane convicts.  They sold out the public for a donation that CNN believes amounts to $45,000.  That’s it.  That is apparently the going rate to buy the right to say, “Look… I’m not a racist, I have been given these non-racist awards… see.”  Where are the pitchforks for the NAACP?

The LA Chapter head Leon Jenkins resigned, but I am not sure that is enough.  Why would this man (Sterling) ever feel he needed to apologize for any past wrongdoings?  The people who are supposed to be the watchdogs for this type of situation were the ones patting him on the back and telling him he had done nothing wrong.  We allowed this organization to do it… we still do.  There’s slight outrage, but not nearly enough.  We are wasting all of our energy on Sterling.

Speaking of wasted energy, where is the outrage for privacy?  Can’t we take a second away from hating this man to examine how this recording came to fruition?  He is going to have something that he owns taken away from him because of comments he made in a private setting.  Think about that for a moment.  There were things I said yesterday that I would never want anyone but my close family to hear (don’t worry, it was nothing hateful, racist, sexist or anything near as vile as Sterling).  And, are we so naive that we believe that Sterling is the only racist in America who owns property, businesses or even a professional sports franchise?  If you believe that, I have a nice ocean I would like to sell you… it’s just off the eastern coast of the United States and if you pay me only $10,000 you would be getting a steal!

Despite what some would have us believe, racism still exists, it’s just more behind closed doors.  We have been okay with that for the better part of 50 years, just as long as those beliefs didn’t manifest themselves in a way that hurts or disenfranchises minorities.  Let’s be honest, the millionaires that played for Sterling weren’t marginalized.  The people who were discriminated against in his housing suit were.  Chris Paul made upwards of $18 million this season.  His coach, Doc Rivers, made upwards of $7 million.

The fact that they had the audacity to even consider not playing bothers me.  Again, I’m not being callous.  I’ve been in some sticky situations with bosses in my work history, and didn’t have the choice to just “take my ball and go home” because my rights were being violated.  I have been poor my whole life.  In all honesty, my dignity and self-respect can be sold for a lot less than $18 million.  They were going to boycott the game because Sterling believed he “gave” those players nice houses and cars?

Grow up Clippers players and coaches.

So what if he believes that?  Sterling’s illegally taped thoughts being made public means I can’t have an escape from my life and enjoy a game?  They still cashed his checks didn’t they?  Did anyone give all of the money back that they got from him?  Of course they didn’t.  They earned the compensation.  They earned the right to play in the league.  We (fans) earned the right to see them play through our money, time, and television eyeballs.

Let’s slow down on the rousing round of applause for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  Again, yet another person who doesn’t have to be held responsible for past actions.  Where was his outrage about the Sterling housing discrimination suit?  Why didn’t he or David Stern (former NBA commissioner) step in when Sterling was publically berating Baron Davis or Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor (both incidences are well-documented)?  Silver deserves praise for banning Sterling?  I will admit to being surprised that Silver had the stones to hand down such a severe penalty, I just quarrel with the lack of action in the past.  I just wish that one of the basketball players who tweeted support for Silver would have also admonished him and the league for not cutting the snake’s head off sooner.

Maybe I am the one who can’t see the forest despite the trees.  I don’t know.

In an article for NewsOne, Michale Arceneaux had a great take on how Sterling’s situation isn’t an exercise in free speech, but rather a demonstration of a man who has had no consequences.  I tend to agree a lot with that assertion.  I do respect those who believe Sterling shouldn’t be protected under the First Amendment, but in my eyes, laws are laws, and rights are rights.  We cannot pick and choose which laws we want to follow; which protections we want to uphold; which freedoms we want to allow.  We are a smart species; capable of great things and immaculate rationality when we strive for greatness.  I am uncomfortable with taking this man’s property (the team, not the players) for comments that were secretly and illegally recorded.  That doesn’t feel American to me.

Being a free nation allows for the pursuit of happiness, but also allows the pursuit of jackassness.  It just does.  Murderers get away with murder sometimes, but if we don’t keep the proper procedures in place, the rights of the innocent will get trampled, and that is far worse.  I am actually glad that I am not a judge, and have nothing to do with figuring out what to do with this situation.  Like Mark Cuban stated recently, when you start talking about taking things from people in a situation like this, “it’s a slippery slope.”

Despite his claims that he “is not a racist,” Sterling is an idiot and karma (like death and taxes) is undefeated.  He will get what is coming to him in this life or the next – We don’t have to worry.

There is always some cause, some person, and some event in which we can gather together, point fingers, and unite in hate.  In some instances, it is the American way.  The overwhelming majority having the same opinion:  Donald Sterling is a monster.  That might be true, but we are Victor Frankenstein, and we created and nurtured him.  It also could be possible that we should take some responsibility for being curators of odium (look up the word).

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Jack Gotta

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