A Bad Hollywood Story

April 29, 2014 | Andrew Bronstein

I had promised myself I wouldn’t talk about this, but this story keeps getting more and more outrageous. I’m sure by now we have all heard that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling showed the world what a racist jerk he is. First of all, before I begin talking about it, let me share my credentials with you. I am Hispanic myself though if you have seen my picture, then you probably figured I am just an average white guy (If you haven’t seen my picture, you should read the rest of my blogs. Not only will you see what I look like, but it also gives me a shameless plug for the rest of my work). I did go to school in predominately African American schools, and despite one or two instances of reverse racism, I can not come close to imagining what it could be like for African Americans to combat racism. This is the main reason I didn’t want to address this topic.

And yet, here I am writing about it. The story has gone from a shameful thing one buffoon did and turned into something that we would expect to come out of Hollywood –at least in movie form. Now that the character of Donald Sterling has been given some depth in the media, we see that he resembles a Vlad the Impaler and Adolf Hitler mix with a little bit of Ben Roethlisberger thrown in there (Can you tell I’m not a Steelers fan?).

Apparently these comments were recorded by his mistress (who as irony would have it is a minority herself). She records a lot and has over one hundred hours of inappropriate commentary of his that she has yet to release. Here is the point in our bad Hollywood movie where the gold-digging, blackmailing other woman becomes the protagonist. In the movie version, I’m sure she only released this little bit to try to get something out of him (maybe money or for him to leave his wife and run away with her) with the intention of showing him that she is serious with her blackmailing threats. However it plays out in real life will probably just as dramatic. I’m sure someone has already pitched this script to the Young and the Restless.

The problem here is that this is real life, and it affects more than just the two evils that I have already mentioned. In case Sterling hasn’t realized, more than half of his players (employees) are African American. Additionally, more than half of his target audience is African American. Maybe it wasn’t the best business decision to spew hatred towards the people that control how much money you make.

But the financial aspects take a backseat to the morality issue here. We as a society have made great strides from the days of racism in the south during the fifties. And then one lone idiot makes us take a step backwards. The issue at hand is this idiot has control of a major sports team in a major market and many employees who strongly disagree with his view. What do those people do? There have been ideas floating around of the fans boycotting. But in all honesty, the Clippers are in the middle of the playoffs. Do you really think enough people will stay away to make Donald Sterling realize what a bigoted jerk he is? Better question: is there any amount of people that can make Donald Sterling realize what a bigoted jerk he is?

Then there are his employees, most notably Doc Rivers and the Clippers players. They made a nice gesture of solidarity and disagreement with Sterling’s statements by wearing their shirts inside out. There has been talk of them boycotting their games, but they are in the playoffs. That would be just as detrimental to them as it would be to Sterling if not more so. Imagine if you had to sell 50 units of something per month, and with 5 days left to go, you needed two more sales to meet your quota. Would you be willing to go on strike with just those two days left? I must applaud the players and coaches for taking the high road. I think there are at least 200 million Americans that would like to at least symbolically punch Donald Sterling in the face, but like Jackie Robinson, the Clippers staff is showing that they are the bigger men by not responding with hatred.

Who do you go to with a complaint about the head honcho of a company (because a sports franchise is really just a company)? Really, the only way that Sterling can be punished is through the league. However, the league can not force Sterling to sell his team. In fact, looking at his portfolio, it doesn’t seem like anyone can force Sterling to sell anything. He has a history of holding on to his assets and not selling even when most other people would. What makes anyone think he would get rid of his NBA team that has finally eclipsed the Lakers and found itself in the heart of the title contention discussion. The Clippers are worth about 575 million dollars and even if someone (Magic Johnson) was to make that offer, Sterling could –and probably would– refuse.

The only thing the NBA could do really would be to fine or suspend him. If the league fines him a million dollars, to a man whose net worth is about a couple of billion dollars, that is a drop in the bucket. A suspension would mean that he can not be at games or team functions, which I’m sure could have some legal ramifications since he does own the team.

No one believes that karma owes this guy a swift kick in the backside more than I do, but unfortunately, I don’t see it happening. He will lose money by losing many sponsorships, in addition to fans as well as the revenue they bring in and even future players. Still, that doesn’t seem like harsh enough and immediate enough punishment for him. Nor does it seem like enough action would be taken by the league or even by the organization. I thought it might be nice if the Clippers players instead of wearing their names on the backs of their jerseys, wore the names of Harry Lew (the first African American to play professional basketball), Chuck Cooper (the first African American to be drafted into the NBA), Earl Lloyd (the first African American to play in the NBA) and Harold Hunter (the first African American to sign with an NBA team). I’m sure they will think of something additional to further show their displeasure and disagreement with Sterling’s viewpoints.

Whatever punishment Sterling gets will be too good for him. I’m all for hating the color of someone’s jersey, but not the color of their skin.

(Photo Courtesy of the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection)