CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 28, 2014 — Donald Sterling’s racist rant has taken the news by storm. The real story, though, is that after losing a federal lawsuit for racial discrimination in housing, settling another for almost $3 million, and being sued by his former general manager for wrongful termination with ample allegations of racism, anyone is surprised.
Indeed, so surprised are they that the NAACP was about to award Sterling his second lifetime achievement award.
By now everyone knows Sterling’s name; he is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team. Nearly every celebrity, sports commentator and news analyst — including President Obama — has weighed in on Sterling’s 9-minute, racist audio dissertation to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.
On that point, there’s little left to say. To say that the comments were crude and disgusting is an understatement of the first order. Sterling’s comments, made at the start of the NBA playoffs, were detrimental to a professional sports league which thrives on a high percentage of highly-talented black athletes.
Until this story broke last week, most people had never heard of Sterling, even though he is a liberal California billionaire. But if most Americans knew nothing about him, the National Basketball Association did. It was no secret within NBA circles that the longest tenured owner in the league is a racist.
Sterling has had multiple law suits brought against him for discrimination. In a 2003 federal lawsuit brought by 19 of his tenants and the Housing Rights Center, he was accused of not wanting to rent to Hispanics. “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building,” he reportedly said. In addition to an undisclosed settlement, Sterling was required to pay the plaintiffs $5 million in attorneys’ fees.
The U.S. District Judge who ordered the payment condemned Sterling’s defense team of “scorched earth” and “outrageous” tactics.
In 2009, Sterling agreed to a $2.76 million settlement to a 2005 suit alleging discrimination against African Americans. In 2010, former general manager of the Clippers, Elgin Baylor’s suit for wrongful termination also alleged racism. In a deposition, Baylor discussed Sterling’s “plantation mentality,” and quoted Sterling as saying, “Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players.”
Sterling is known in Los Angeles as a slumlord extraordinaire. He is hardly someone who promotes the ideal image the NBA wishes to project.
However, there are aspects to this story that should be questioned. Sterling’s voice is allegedly heard on an audio recording made by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano. A reasonable expectation in a private conversation is that you are not being recorded. If it is Sterling’s voice on that recording, Stiviano was prepared to record the conversation in advance. The fact that she sold the recording to TMZ demonstrates that she is no angel and was clearly seeking monetary gain from the incident.
Despite Sterling’s grotesque comments, he has a First Amendment right to freedom of speech. His words were offensive, but he broke no law when he said them. Stiviano would probably have broken the law if she recorded him without his knowledge or permission.
Given that the NBA has known — or should have known — for years that Sterling is a racist, why did the league condone it by ignoring it? Where was the outrage in 2003, 2005, 2009 or 2010? Only now that Sterling’s voice has been captured on tape has the league shown awareness of his views and condemned them.
Sterling allegedly observed that were it not for him, his players would not be driving fancy cars and living in multi-million dollar homes. President Obama made a speech in which he told small business people that they did not create their own success. How is Obama’s statement any different from Sterling’s?
When the great St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood was challenging baseball’s free agency system he stated that he was indeed well paid for what he did on the diamond, but that, in essence, he was still “a slave” because he could not negotiate freely for his services.
Sports have come a long way since Flood’s day, as have civil rights. To say that racism does not exist in America would be foolish, but enormous racial strides have been made since the 1960s.
Obama responded to the Sterling controversy while traveling in Asia. Indeed the president should make his feelings known, but given his history of delaying comments on subjects such as Syria, Libya, Israel and other situations where he has been said to “contemplating” his position, he might have waited until he returned to the United States to weigh in on the Sterling situation
That says much about Obama’s priorities.
Donald Sterling is unquestionably a reprehensible human being, but other people have known that for a long time and they never said a word.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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