The NBA is going to impose some stiff discipline on Donald Sterling for racist remarks he was caught making on an audio tape recently, as they should. Such sentiments are quite obviously beyond the pale in the 21st century, and the NBA has to take some kind of action against Sterling if only for the PR benefits.
In many ways, the Sterling brouhaha is a simple one: He got caught making vile racist statements, and has a history of racist statements and acts, including getting himself in hot water over discriminatory housing practices. Sterling has every right to think and say what he wants, of course, but society also has a right to say that those views and statements are outside the bounds of acceptable public discourse, and the NBA, who licenses the very lucrative franchise Sterling has made so much money from, has every right to decide they want as little association with Sterling as is legally possible.
In other ways, however, the incident is much deeper than a few racist utterances. For example, while the racist aspect of Sterling’s behavior has gotten gobs of attention, I have yet to come across anyone noting the sheer misogyny at work here also. Yes, it’s laughable that a screw up owner like Sterling would have the chutzpah to think himself better than Magic Johnson, the owner of another L.A. sports franchise (and, oh yeah, one of basketball’s biggest legends), but even if the subject weren’t someone as famous as Magic, it would still be beyond screwed up for him to think he got to dictate who his mistress was seen in public with, whether on the basis of their skin color or simply because he thinks he gets to order her around like that. And let me just add: Am I the only person who finds it beyond creepy that a clear racist like Sterling has a young, fairly dark complected, biracial woman for a mistress? It’ pretty hard to escape the conclusion that Sterling gets, er, excited by the prospect that his wealth allows him to control a beautiful young woman who, at base, he probably has nothing but contempt for.
Even where the rather straight-forward response to Sterling’s contemptible racism is concerned, I’m having a bit of a hard time taking the overwrought reaction of some corners of the media/fans seriously. Specifically, how many people will go from calling for Sterling’s ouster from the NBA in one breath to getting angry at the idea that the Washington D.C. professional football team shouldn’t employ a naked racial slur as its official nickname in the next? And really, if you’re the kind of person to try to weight bad behavior relative to itself, which is worse; expressing racist attitudes in private or vigorously defending using a racist slur as the nickname for one of the most valuable sports franchises in North America? It’s funny how so many people are just fine with that public display of racism.
But it’d be really easy to sit here and compare Sterling to various other scumbags and bad actors in the ranks of professional sports owners, and on some fundamental level I think that’s exactly what’s driving the universal outrage at Sterling. There are a lot of fans out there who despise the guy who owns their favorite sports team, and for the most part there’s nothing that can be done about those guys. We can condemn Jeffrey Loria and Daniel Snyder and Peter Angelos until our dying breaths, but that’s not going to force them to sell their teams, and they certainly couldn’t care less what we think about them.
Still, Donald Sterling is basically the gold standard of atrocious owners; a despicable human being who also has a long track record of pinching every penny he possibly could while extracting maximum profits from the Clippers, producing one of professional sports most pathetic on-court franchises in the process. And now the public actually does have something they can seize on that might extract some measure of revenge for his myriad offenses against Clippers fans, the city of Los Angeles, and basic human shame. Sterling is paying for his own crimes, yes, but he’s also paying for the crimes of every scumbag owner extorted money from public schools or healthcare budgets in order to build fancy new luxury suites to line their pockets and entertain their rich friends, or taken hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies only to turn around and put a pathetic product on the field in the name of keeping costs low and profits high.
Donald Sterling is going to have the hammer brought down on him today, and the sports world will be better off for it. Would that we could say the same for the rest of his loathsome, robber-baron brethren.