Donald Sterling’s racist rant: The surprise is that it was a surprise

Donald Sterling - NBA File Photo
Donald Sterling - NBA File Photo

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.

READ ALSO: If Cliven Bundy’s politics matter, so do Donald Sterling’s

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.

READ ALSO: Los Angeles activists protest Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s slurs, NAACP rethinks ties

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 (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News. Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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  • southerner

    freedom of associaton should be protected


    Forgot in all of this is the fact that the First Amendment still exists.

  • elpostito

    When I searched “Sterling comments, free speech” why are all the major news outlets missing from the results? Finally, a voice of reason. Thank you Mr. Taylor.

  • isaboutu

    OMIGOD..where is the government coming in and crushing his right to free speech ??????! Because that is what the first amendment is ALL about….no one isnt saying he cant be a racist pig …BUT the NBA is saying he cant stay an owner with that crap…now how that bell got rung should be investigated but the cat is now out of the bag and wont be put back in.

  • isaboutu

    Oh and he is NOT a liberal billionaire…he is a republican one.

  • Ghost Who Walks Inside

    So, someone records (potentially illegally) a private conversation, sells it to the media and is made public, but we’re going to try to destroy someone for their racist comments?

    We’re talking about them barring him from anything even related to basketball as well as trying to force him to sell his franchise…because of an opinion. Wow. Welcome to Soviet Amerika comrads, your State requires you to sign in please…or be shot. We don’t care which.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to just simply say, “Hey, that was wrong, pay a fine and you’re barred from attending any games for life…” instead? Think about it – companies are already distancing themselves from him. What else do you need? I didn’t notice any of the black players walking out on the team, or refusing to play – wouldn’t *that* have sent a strong message?

    Personally I think the ultimate justice would have been for the racist jerk to continue owning the team, have all the black players walk out and have the only players willing to be on the team be racist white players. No companies would sponser them and ultimately Sterling would have to PAY to keep his team going, instead of it being profitable.

    As soon as the team was in the red, he’d sell – at a loss.

    But seriously, don’t punish someone for exercising their Consitutional right. There’s wrong (What he did) and then there’s WRONG…