By Jason Keidel
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Sports are supposed to be the gold standard, a pure meritocracy blind to everything but hard work and teamwork. The color and contours of the participants are thought to be incidental.
So when we hear Donald Sterling’s alleged comments, so antithetical to the spirit of sports, we sadly exhale, our sense of society shaken to the bone.
The media scampers to Doc Rivers and Magic Johnson, and the players who draw a paycheck from the man who, at least privately, scorns them, looking for a sound bite or biting retort. And that’s understandable, if not necessary. But the blast radius of Sterling’s remarks go far beyond a particular color or community.
Sterling’s reputedly racist, retrograde worldview is a stain even on those he allegedly loves, and those who look like him. He advances not only stereotypes about minorities, but also long-held notions that most white people hold latent, bigoted views on all people of color. And while it’s exponentially harder to overcome the old-world, ignorant perspectives that Sterling represents, it’s not fun to repeatedly declare that most folks don’t share them.
Sports have often doubled as a platform for social change. From Joe Louis to Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali to the Clippers players who were forced to play under great gravity, too many people of color and pioneers of color have suffered so that Doc Rivers didn’t have to look so lost yesterday, torn between his need to compete and the reports that his boss is a monster.
This isn’t Sterling’s first faux pax or the first time he’s been accused of racism. There’s an endless scroll of legal briefs and lawsuits from ordinary people who have felt the full weight of Sterling’s ignorance. He allegedly refused to rent his apartments to minorities, and has been sued by his longtime GM, Eligin Baylor, for unlawful discrimination.
Charles Barkley, the NBA’s court jester and a sneaky-smart mind on social issues, has said it’s not illegal to be a racist. He’s right. But we can’t have a person of Sterling’s power wielding
his alleged worldview over a league that’s 80 percent black. Not after this. And it’s equally important for the world to know that Sterling’s views are his own, which won’t be easy to do, as enough people who look like Donald Sterling have done endless harm to people who look like Chris Paul.
The legal people will parse the particulars, and help the NBA force Sterling to sell the team. As Barkley said this morning, forcing a man who bought a team for $15 million to now unload it for $700 million is hardly medieval punishment. But that’s about all we can do. Sterling represents the glory and the gory of American freedom. He made over a billion dollars on the backs of blacks and other people he allegedly despises, then stains the very land that made him rich with his grotesque words.
The montages make you sick, all the video of Sterling on the sideline, his waxen face scowling at his own team. He always came across as a miserable person. Now we know he’s a horrible person.
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