Rookie NBA commissioner Adam Silver has officially spoken. Sterling is out but many continue to wonder what this means going forward and if Sterling is not America’s chickens coming home to roost.
Donald Sterling damn near broke the Internet over the weekend with this alleged leaked audio. He also caused both headaches and embarrassment to the LA Chapter of the NAACP as they were just about to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award. They quickly reversed their decision but not before someone realized they had already given the guy the Lifetime Achievement award back in 2009. That award ironically came around the same time that Sterling agreed to pay $2.76 million to settle a housing discrimination case. Oops!
As disgusting as this guy is, and I admit he’s pretty disgusting, what gets me is the fact that he was not a “secret” racist. He was a well-known, extremely vocal and high profile racist, with a paper trail to prove it. A history of racism which the NBA has known about for years. In addition to the above mentioned lawsuit brought against him by the the DOJ in 2006, there was another back in 2003. He was also sued by former General Manager and Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, in 2009 (yeah that’s right, just as the NAACP was pinning a big fat gold Master medallion on his chest). Baylor said Sterling wanted the team run in the model of a southern plantation with poor black boys and a white southern head coach.
When walking into the Ardmore, an apartment building Sterling had recently bought in Los Angeles, he reportedly said this about it’s smell.
“That’s because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean,” Sterling said. “And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.”
“…So we have to get them out of here.”
Sterling won the Baylor case and settled the other two out of court with the plaintiffs signing confidentiality agreements. Three years later when Sterling was ordered to pay roughly $5 million in plaintiff attorney fees alone, the judge called the legal tactics of Sterling’s defense team “scorched earth” and “often unacceptable, and sometimes outrageous.”
But none of that raised eyebrows with the league at the time. Nor was there any real coverage in the media. There was the testimony of one elderly tenant with a medical condition who was harassed, threatened and had numerous calls for repairs simply ignored “get her out of there. Employees at his rental properties were reportedly instructed to do so. He allegedly lied to would-be black and Latino renters about housing availability in nicer neighborhoods. He would reportedly bring women into the locker room while his players were dressing and make weirdly inappropriate remarks about the players’ bodies. Each time Sterling got into a jam, he pulled out his checkbook and swept it under the rug. He was, for years, regarded by the league as a cartoon-like caricature of a miserly old ball club owner. As long as his racism only affected his bank account, his players, his tenants and his employees, the NBA could not care less.
So a lot of people are wondering, why now? What’s so different this time.
The truth is, not much. The current media-infused moral outrage, resulted in a fine and being banned from the league including league events for life. Lets be honest, most fines are designed to shut up the outraged as opposed to penalize the person causing the outrage. Even though the league set a precedent and made a surprising decision to push him out, Sterling will likely walk away with a near $998 million profit. Even though Sterling is out, there are still no bylaws that address the conduct of its owners.
The same reason Sterling has been allowed to own an NBA team for 30 years regardless of his obvious racism and utter lack of respect for black people in general and black ball players specifically. The same reason there is actually no legal precedence for addressing the moral conduct of ball club owners but more than a dozen that govern players. The same reason he is an 80-something-year-old man with a 20-something-year-old attractive girlfriend. The same reason the Washington Redskins continue to refuse to change its racist name and logo despite more than 40 years of begging from Native Americans to change the name. The same reason the NAACP was about to give him a second lifetime achievement award.
Why? He’s a rich white man in America.
Chickens coming home to roost is an old idiom about how our bad behavior and bad decisions always come back to haunt us. And in this case, it could not be more true. This country was originally settled by people escaping not just taxation but a caste system designed to suppress the lower classes. In this country we have done little in the last half of this century except desperately try to emulate that system.
Perhaps we don’t have a Monarchy. But consider this, at least in England the Monarchy is in “name-only.” Our Monarchy is engrained in every facet of our society. From the cars we drive to the zip codes and tile rooftops we strive for. We have a criminal justice system that routinely favors privilege over justice, a political system bought and sold to the highest bidder, an education system designed to fail those who need it the most and yes even the last bastion of meritocracy — professional athletics — that is run in the “southern plantation model.” So Sterling’s out. Great. Now what?
Devona Walker is the politics editor for The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @DevonaWalker.