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Sterling Controversy Shows Race to Be America’s Achilles Heel

I try very hard not to have knee jerk reactions to events that take place in our society. We should gather the facts about a matter before making a judgment.

Reputations and careers are ruined when false information is put out in the public domain. If we ran with every piece of hearsay and gossip that was out there, where would we be?

Reports surface almost daily about famous people from all walks of life being caught in compromising situations. There are publications that always will have a “hot headline” about someone of perceived importance.

I read both newspapers and review the Internet for current events and interesting stories. To that end, I’ve followed the story, which alleges that National Basketball Association team owner Donald Sterling made some comments about Black people that were based in bigotry.

Sterling, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers, was expressing his displeasure at his mixed-race girlfriend (African-American and Mexican) about her proclivity to be around Black people and to have her picture taken with Hall of Fame NBA player Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

My mind instantly started dribbling down the court in search of answers. One of my first questions was, how in the world did TMZ manage to obtain the recorded conversation? Did the girlfriend set him up? As fate would have it, I listened to ESPN radio as they had obtained a copy of the audio and I parked the car and listened.

It was unbelievable! The owner of an NBA franchise is purported to have made these comments. The owner who paid several million to settle two lawsuits within the last 10 years that involved racist and discriminatory practices aimed at minorities in regard to his rental properties. Elgin Baylor, a basketball icon who played in the NBA for many years and a former Sterling executive employee, had unsuccessfully sued this same owner for wrongful termination and discrimination. TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley and many other prominent figures have said Sterling should be fined and suspended.

I agree, if the league’s investigation confirms the allegations. But Sterling is a billionaire, so the question is, how much should the fine be? How do you fine meanness, insensitivity and closet hate? I use the term “closet hate” because the owner of the team has both Black players and a Black coach. So everyday or maybe every week this owner smiles and grins with African-Americans who are on his payroll. He probably meets with the coach, listening to him, but, in his heart, not respecting him. The hypocrisy in all of this is beyond reason.

However, even if he is suspended he still gains the economic benefit of his team making money during his suspension. Commissioner Silver can look to a similar situation in sports for guidance. In the ’90s, Major League Baseball suspended the Cincinnati Reds’ controversial owner Marge Schott before finally pressuring her to sell her controlling interest in the team.

As I have said many times before, race is this country’s Achilles Heel. Here we are in 2014 and race remains at the top of our social disorders list. The issue of race permeates the atmosphere on a daily basis. The racist attitudes and comments come out without warning and sometimes without provocation. Do power and money give you the right to speak racist language?

The world will be watching to see what the NBA does to sanction one of its own. (The free market might provide a remedy as advertisers and marketing partners of the team are fleeing in droves.) I hope the decision is swift and broad enough for him to feel the effects of hurtful and distasteful actions and language toward another group.

A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics
American sport has always served as a platform for resistance and has been measured and critiqued by how it responds in critical moments of racial and social crises.
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A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics