saturday morning millions awoke to the trending news of la clippers’ owner donald sterling’s racist remarks captured in audio obtained and reported by tmz. in an argument with his black-latino girlfriend, sterling was recorded saying things like, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?” “You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.” “I’m just saying, in your lousy f******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.” “…Don’t put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.” you can read more here: http://www.tmz.com#ixzz300tmj2qL
i was still awake when tmz broke this story in the middle of the night and i wasn’t surprised by any of it. i also wasn’t surprised by the outrage that was visible in my timeline the next morning after social media realized they were having race cakes for breakfast. i’m well aware of donald sterling’s bigotry as this is not the first time he’s been under fire for discrimination. he’s been sued by former la clippers executive elgin baylor, who is black, for racial discrimination. that case was dismissed. he’s been sued by the department of justice for housing discrimination against blacks and latinos, refusing to rent them properties owned by him in beverly hills and koreatown; and attempting to force out black and latinos who already inhabited his property. that case was settled for an undisclosed amount that was reported to be one of the largest settlements in the history of such cases. former la clipper, baron davis, was once vocal about sterling’s racism. so i wasn’t surprised by the news of donald sterling making racists remarks. there is precedent to support his comments. what i was surprised by was the lack of coverage by mainstream media outlets.
to the best of my knowledge, as of 1pm central time the only major news outlet that had picked up tmz’s story was espn, and they didn’t mention it as a “developing story” until an hour prior at noon. now think back to the aftermath of the nfl nfc conference championship and remarks made by richard sherman in a post-game interview. that was THE news on every major news outlet, and he didn’t say anything offensive or hateful or vitriolic. it was just the “way” he said it, coupled with his profession, and the color of his skin. now think back to the release of wide receiver desean jackson from the philadelphia eagles for his ALLEGED affiliation with gangs, and how that dominated our news-feeds and news networks. yet his white teammate, riley cooper, wasn’t released from the team for the racial slur that we KNOW he used because he too was caught on tape. he was merely assessed a fine; a slap on the wrist. we can even harken all the way back to the fallout over tiger woods’ infidelity and the media scrutiny that accompanied his very public downfall on a very private matter. he had to have a press conference, and it was covered like Obama himself was addressing the nation. tiger woods lost millions in endorsements, he lost the respect of fans, and he lost his dominance in golf as he hasn’t won another major since the incident; because he cheated on his wife, a private matter, and the media was right there to make sure it was public. in contrast, i remember when allegations of rape were brought against pittsburgh steelers quarterback ben roethlisberger. you probably don’t even remember or know what i’m talking about? that’s because it was a story that was reluctantly reported and briefly carried by major media outlets; they were much more kind and forgiving to him for rape than they were for tiger’s infidelity.
and then there was donald sterling, born donald tokowitz. let’s start there. donald tokowitz was born to jewish immigrants in chicago, il. the moment he was old enough to change his name, he did. we can learn a lot from this. perhaps he was separating himself from his jewish roots which at the time of his upbringing in the united states (1930s-40s) probably wasn’t to his advantage. or maybe he was running to the future he saw for himself in changing his name to “sterling”; a future of silver and gold. a future of riches. whichever it may be, we can assume that from very early on donald tokowitz was not satisfied with himself be it with his name or his heritage or his circumstances. i’m always intrigued by persons who’ve lived through or been the product of a painful history of oppression, only to rise up and put others down. it’s intriguing to me as an african american who has experienced discrimination and therefore have no agency to discriminate against others, not to mention it’s just wrong. yet in our attempts to move from the margins to the center, we run the risk of becoming the very people we are running from. it’s the product of internalized oppression, where hurt people hurt people, and don sterling has a bad case of it.
don sterling is a modern day slave owner and the nba is one big plantation. no, not in the traditional sense, but if you can get past the millions of dollars that are exchanged between the hands of the league, the owners and the players, the power dynamic present is in parallel with the power dynamics of racism and its child- slavery. “ism’s” are all about power, whether it’s racism, sexism, class-ism; it’s always about the balance of power, and the balance of power in professional sports particularly the nba, is unbalanced. so follows the media coverage and press. it’s all unbalanced and it’s all in favor of those in power, whether it’s because of their class (socioeconomic status), race, or sex.
don sterling is on the right side of “ism’s” and therefore on the right side of power. and you’ll have to excuse me if it feels a lot like slavery in the wake of his racist comments. you’ll have to excuse me if don sterling, longest tenured owner of an nba team full of black men, with a black and latino girlfriend, reminds me of thomas jefferson , former president and slave owner, who had a longtime love affair with his black monticello slave concubine, sally hemmings. you’ll also have to excuse me if the nba, comprised of 76% african american men with only ONE african american majority team owner (michael jordan) reminds me of a plantation where the labor of its workers grow the wealth of its owners. excuse me, please.
listen, i understand that mr. sterling’s feelings are the feelings of a small minority of people in the world and in professional sports, in this case the nba. i know this. but i have to use this opportunity to make an important point: racism is still alive and will continue to be one of the key driving forces in marginalization as long as there is an imbalance of power in arenas like professional sports and media. as long as bigots like don sterling are allowed to profit from a demographic of people he neither likes nor respects, a black cloud of skepticism will float over the heads of otherwise noble and just sportsmen and citizens. i hope the nba drops a heavy hammer on donald sterling, sending a strong message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated by its ambassadors; and i hope by doing so a balance of power in media coverage may also be restored. that’s my sterling silver lining.