I’m really not happy about the ruling to ban Donald Sterling for life from the Clippers Organization and the NBA. Before I explain why, let me preface it with this: I think what Sterling said and feels about black people is offensive, reprehensible, and shouldn’t be accepted. I think for him to express to his mistress that he’s embarrassed that she would bring “black people” to his games is crazy! However, having said all that, I feel he shouldn’t have been banned or even fined. Here’s why: Sterling made his remarks in the privacy of his home. As despicable as they are, those were his feelings and he expressed them in his home. I don’t feel like it’s right to impose sanctions on someone just because they are racist.
If they act discriminatory against someone, if they implement racist policies, if they treat people unfairly, well that’s another ballgame. Just judging on the merits of this situation, nothing was reported to indicate that being the case. He may have had a history as a slumlord racist. But that’s not what he was banned for. He may have been a defendant in a civil suit against Elgin Baylor, who charged that he was engaging in discriminatory practices. However, that’s not what this was about.
According to the press conference given by the Commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, this ban was solely on what he said in his home. I think the NBA made a decision on a slippery slope. I understand Sterling is a public figure and has to represent the NBA in a certain light. I understand that as a public figure he has a responsibility to the public. I understand that it is even more outrageous that he feels the way he does and still employs many black people, has a team of mostly black players, and has a Coach and General Manager in Doc Rivers who is black. The irony of it all is quite baffling! Or maybe not.
Maybe he’s just a “good” businessman and can separate his personal feelings from the business decisions he makes as an NBA owner. But to attempt to deprive someone of their right to keep a business they own because of something they believe is, to me, even more offensive. If he used his platform as an NBA owner to express his racial views to some private organization or some other cause that would be a different story. If he publicly supported views or causes that were discriminatory, that would be a different story. But again, just taking this incident alone, I didn’t see anything reported as such.
Here’s what should have happened: The NBA should have done nothing and allowed Sterling’s views to be punished organically. That would have sent a stronger message and would have elevated the level of respect of everyone who was offended. Fans should have stopped coming to the games. Players should have decided they weren’t going to play for the organization. Coaches should have stepped away. And you know what would have happened? Sterling would have been forced to sell.
One of the greatest boycotts in American history was the Montgomery Bus Line Boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. You know why it was so powerful? Ultimately it wasn’t a legislative body or board of directors that changed the racist policy of having blacks sit at the back of the bus. It was the people themselves that decided they wouldn’t ride the bus anymore. They took the opportunity to make a unified statement. In this case however, Commissioner Silver made the final decision. Instead of mounting up pressure on the Commissioner to do something about Sterling, every individual involved should have said, “I’m going to do something about it.” Some people did, and I applaud them. Nevertheless, I hate that we live in a world where someone says something offensive and our first reaction is to look for someone to punish them for us.
Is it because deep inside we feel no matter how offended we are, we are still going to support institutions that we feel don’t think the best about us? Is it because deep inside we still feel powerless? Today, we celebrate Adam Silver for making a decision we should have made. We celebrate him for feeling our pain. But what if he didn’t? What if he didn’t agree with those who called for Sterling’s head to roll? What would have happened? Are we afraid of that answer and so we breathe a sigh of relief when someone in power “gets it right”? What happens in the future when someone gets it wrong? In some weird kind of way, I wish I had the opportunity to see that.