I, like many sports fans who have cleared their thirtieth birthday, was not shocked to hear that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling had made some racist comments. Sterling has made them before. Many times in fact. I can remember lawsuits, including Elgin Baylor’s claiming racial and age discrimination, and stories about Sterling’s behavior and attitude going back over a decade. What I cannot remember is there ever being this kind of outrage before.
While Sterling’s actions were never condoned, neither were they condemned. It seemed like they were reported quickly than buried just as fast behind a blind eye and shake of the head. It was as if it was an embarrassment that needed to be hidden as opposed to dealt with. Over the last few days, as I waited to see what the NBA would do, I wondered, what changed? Why now and not then? What makes the words Sterling spoke now so much more outrageous than the actions and attitude he’s been portraying for years?
The answer is nothing. They are not any different or more deserving of outrage or punishment than any of the other atrocious and bigoted acts Sterling has committed in his tenure as owner of the Clippers. What has changed is our voice. We as a collective society have a stronger and louder voice today than we did back then. Social media as a medium for change was not established in the times of Sterling’s previous transgressions but it is today. Today, players and owners and fans are able to sound off with their displeasure and they are doing so.
If you have read any of my previous work on this site you might notice that I tend to look for the good in sports. I want to find a positive side to the story. As you can probably imagine, it is not easy to find the good in a story about a racist. Hatred and prejudice are so deplorable that it becomes easy to stand on a soapbox and condemn Sterling and to make the story all about him and his vileness.
But that is not what I want to do because I do not believe that I need to tell you that racism is wrong. We know that racism is wrong. Fans have been tweeting and organizing protests. Clippers players turned their jerseys inside out and wore black socks in protest. The Miami Heat and other teams were quick to follow suit in support of their colleagues. Other NBA owners were quick to release statements condemning Sterling and making it clear they would not be associated with such behavior. Sponsors left the Clippers.
The message was clear and became final when Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling for life. Donald Sterling is no longer the story. He is history. The positive in all of this, is that this time the reprehensible acts of a bigot were not ignored. Our culture has changed. I hope it continues to change. I hope this is a lesson and stepping stone for more leaders to stand up and stand out against hatred. It is clear that we, fans and players a like, have a voice. We should use that voice to help lift up and support each other. There should be no place for hatred in our sports or society. Good for Adam Silver to say there is no place for Donald Sterling in the NBA.