Racism, sports and Donald Sterling

The owner of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, was caught on audiotape April 9 making undeniably racist remarks demanding that a female friend — who happens to be Black and Latina — not bring Black men to Clippers’ basketball games. That this tape was released in the midst of the playoffs and immediately involved some of the best-known present and former stars has made it national news. It has become the subject of a national discussion that even involved President Barack Obama.

Who make up the NBA’s professional ballplayers? Some of the best athletes from countries in four continents around the world. A handful are white athletes from North America, but over 70 percent are African-American men.

That means anyone in management or public relations — and all the wealthy owners — have to know that racism is unforgivable and won’t be tolerated. If, despite that, the stars whom the game depends on and who have a broad following can be insulted and diminished, then it is obvious how long a road still remains to overcome four centuries of institutionalized white supremacy.

The fact that the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, is white is a reflection that affirmative action is way overdue in the NBA hierarchy.  Silver is considering sanctions against Sterling “pending an investigation.”

Judging by the reaction of the Black players who have had contact with Sterling, well, all you can say is that no one is surprised, except maybe that it was caught on tape.

Sterling has a known, sordid history of racism, ranging from being sued as a landlord by the U.S. Department of Justice for denying housing to people of color to underpaying Black NBA players, most notably the great Elgin Baylor. Sterling has also been accused of sexual harassment in other lawsuits.

The only progressive step that can come from such an incident is that the league and the country show the owner of the Clippers and any others who wield power through their money in the NBA that such racism won’t be tolerated.

The first indication that this may happen is the reaction of the players, including some of the top stars.

Current NBA superstar Lebron James said, “There’s no room for Donald Sterling in our league.”

Clippers star point guard Chris Paul, National Basketball Players Association president, said on behalf of the NBPA, “This is a very serious issue which we will address aggressively.”

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, an all-time all-star and a direct target of Sterling’s remarks, said on Twitter that he would refuse to attend a Clippers’ game while Sterling remained the owner. “I feel sorry for my friends Coach Doc Rivers and Chris Paul that they have to work for a man that feels that way about African Americans.”

Johnson has called for the fans to boycott the Clippers’ games until Sterling is no longer the owner. These games are attended by a majority of white fans — which is true of many NBA games played in suburban areas. It is important for whites to heed Magic’s call in order to show anti-racist solidarity with Black players and Black people in general.

Prior to game 4 of the Clippers-Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., on April 27, all of the Clippers’ players came to the middle of the court and threw their warm-up jerseys inside out on the floor so the word “Clippers” would not show. One Warriors’ fan held two signs reading:  “Racism has no place in Oracle arena” and “Magic Johnson is always welcome here.”

It is beyond time that the management of the NBA, including its commissioner, reflect the composition of the players and have an attitude of zero-tolerance for racism, most especially among the rich and powerful who own the teams and the league’s top management.

It will be a long struggle to eradicate racism in the NBA, let alone in all of U.S. capitalist society. Start at the top.

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