Donald Sterling and advertising ignorance

Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life for racist comments he made to his girlfriend.
Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been banned for life for racist comments he made to his girlfriend.

Donald Sterling managed to make himself the most hated man in basketball with a ten-minute audio recording. Sterling told his girlfriend that she could associate with African Americans in private, but she couldn’t bring them to Clippers games. This led to outrage across the league and his eventual ban for life from the NBA, a $2.5m fine and a move to make him sell the Clippers to another ownership group.

It seems that Donald Sterling may have been harboring racist thoughts all this time and nobody knew about it. Or did no one really? Because this isn’t the first time that Sterling has been accused of discrimination. In 2006, a large case was brought against Sterling for refusing to rent his properties to African Americans and those with families. At the time, it was the largest ever case of property discrimination and ended with Sterling paying out $2.725m as a settlement. That, it turns out, was just the beginning.

What got Sterling in trouble this time was an audio recording of a conversation between him and his much, much younger girlfriend. In the recording, Sterling touches on a number of topics such as that fact that he is superior to the black players on his team because he feeds them, that his girlfriend shouldn’t have Matt Kemp, Magic Johnson or black people in her Instagram, and finally that black Jews are inferior to white Jews. It is really all quite ridiculous. Some of the things he’s saying are so weird that it’s difficult to tell if he really believes them, but the problem here is that he does. He really believes that black Jews are inferior to white Jews, and that it is okay to believe this since, “We don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.” Except we do evaluate what’s right and wrong, as Sterling has found out in recent days.

Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner, had a major decision to make when it came to Sterling. Silver has not been in the job long and any decision he made would set the tone for the rest of his reign. What he did was send a message to anyone with outdated ideas: you’re not welcome in the NBA. It was a clear statement and one that had to be made. Sterling was hit with the biggest fine possible, the harshest punishment that could be handed down by the NBA in the form of a lifetime ban and he will likely be forced to sell his franchise, which has only recently stopped being a complete laughingstock. What Silver did was set a precedent that racism in the NBA will not be tolerated and the league will come after those who do not change with the times. I’ve heard excuses from TV personalities that Sterling should be punished because the majority of the league is African American, but that shouldn’t matter. This isn’t political correctness; this is a fight for respect in the league.

The decision has been made and it is unlikely that Sterling will win any appeal because, in an interview with Silver, he admitted it was his voice in the recording. The only thing left is to value the Clippers and to find a buyer for the franchise. So instead of discussing hypothetical situations, I think it is more useful to analyze what others around the league and America said publicly on the Sterling affair, since this event has garnered loads of attention in the American media. Even President Obama commented on Sterling while conducting an East Asian tour designed to ease rising tensions between Korea and Japan. Obama gave a press conference and stated, “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything. You just let them talk. And that’s what happened here.” Obama is right: Sterling’s ignorance is on show here.

LeBron James and Doc Rivers had the best things to say about Sterling. James, when interviewed after the Heat-Bobcats game, said, “We’re the model citizens of all sports around the world because we are the most recognizable figures … It’s very disrespectful and it’s appalling.” LeBron also led the Heat’s show of solidarity with the Clippers before game 4 of their series with the Bobcats. Rivers pointed out that while he would usually be looking forward to going back to LA, it was unlikely to be a happy return. But Rivers called for solidarity, “I think the biggest statement we can make as men, not as black men, as men, is to stick together and show how strong we are as a group.”

Magic Johnson’s response was most telling since he was actually targeted by Sterling in the recording. Sterling told his girlfriend, “don’t bring him to my games, OK?” Johnson has given a number of interviews since the event and has recently announced that he will be trying to get his Dodgers friends together to buy the Clippers. Johnson announced in an interview that, “I will never go to a Clippers game again as long as Donald Sterling is the owner,” which may not be for long.

Even Lil’ Wayne has offered his opinion on the matter, although what he had to say was a little too risqué to put into print (it is worth watching though). But this shows how problematic Sterling’s actions are. Pretty much everyone has rallied against Sterling, and Silver realized that drastic action was necessary in order to restore tranquility to the NBA. The good thing to note is that nobody is defending Sterling and everyone is focused on castigating him. So maybe Sterling is one of the last members of the ‘ignorant’ community and we should be celebrating the fact that he has been found out and hopefully forced out. Hopefully he will soon be gone and the Clippers can carry on with a push for the finals.

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