Clippers Owner Donald Sterling: Prioritized Indignation


Apr 29, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Jerry Carr, Huntington Beach, Calif, asks the NBA players to boycott games in front of Staples Center. The NBA handed down a lifetime ban on Clippers owner Donald Sterling after it was confirmed that he made racist comments captured on a recording by his girlfriend. The Clippers and Warrior play game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

I have stood back from this Donald Sterling scandal thus far for a variety of reasons: 1) I like to have all the facts before sharing my perspective, 2) I don’t want to be part of the firestorm that is capitalizing on public outrage rather than measuring a response, and 3) primary reports have been largely redundant (guess who is still a bigoted jackass?) or flashy (‘X’ celebrity looks to purchase the team).

The time has come, however, for me to offer my opinion on the matter. Barring a Scooby Doo-esque revelation that Sterling is actually Cliff Paul in a wrinkly, white mask, I believe the story has developed enough for this to be my first and final public assessment. So for those who have been living under rocks with their eyes shut and their fingers in their ears, desperately belting Ebony and Ivory, here are the basics of what has happened this week:

  • Owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling was caught on audio tape telling his mistress in so many words that he did not want her advertising her affiliation with black people, and that he did not want her bringing them to games. The audio recording can be found here.
  • Newly promoted Commissioner of the NBA Adam Silver ordered an immediate investigation of the incident. After swift deliberation, Silver announced that Sterling would be banned for life from any association with the NBA and would receive the maximum fine of $2.5 million. It is likely that Sterling will also be forced to sell the team. The video can be found here.
  • Rumors have surfaced that if the other 29 NBA team owners vote to force Sterling out, he will sue the NBA, but that is of little consequence at this juncture. The proper wheels are turning and Sterling is, reportedly, as good as gone. The source of these claims can be found here.

The way I see it, there are positives and negatives to this Ku Klux Kalamity. The obvious negative is that it is hurtful, hateful, and damaging to players, fans, and the league, as well as black people in a more direct capacity. The obvious positive is that the NBA is now in a position to oust Sterling while the players display their solidarity.

Yet the hidden travesty in all this is what I will call “prioritized indignation.” While, yes, there is no room for Sterling’s behavior in the NBA, this week’s words pale in comparison to prior actions that colloquially speak much louder.

Sterling owns 160+ properties in central Los Angeles, extending to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. In 2003, Sterling was sued for housing discrimination. He was sued again in 2006 for the same reasons by the United States Department of Justice. He settled both times; the first for an undisclosed amount, and the second for $2.73 million.

The specific discrimination? Sterling avoids renting to blacks or Mexicans, and harasses the few that he does rent to with surprise inspections, maintenance refusal, and declination of rental checks. One of his top property supervisors Sumner Davenport alleges that Sterling once told her black people were “unclean” and that Mexicans “just sit around and smoke and drink all day.” Sterling does everything in his power to keep the neighborhoods he essentially owns essentially white.

This means prospective tenants are often denied access to employment opportunities, educational opportunities, and health care services, which, in turn, reinforces the concentration of poverty localized to the black and Hispanic community through segregation.

So in a sense I am glad that Sterling made his heinous remarks, because now he will be duly punished for them. I am, however, disappointed that they were a necessity for his pending removal as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. It is his heinous actions that should be taking center stage right now, as they should have when they were first brought to light.

It was those actions that directly impacted the subjects of his prejudice. While Gold-Digger Barbie is a fun toy for media outlets, the physical strife of thousands should outweigh the justifiable offense taken by millions. The media’s response is comparable to prosecuting a known arsonist for smoking in-doors. Where were they when the buildings were burning?

That isn’t to downplay the seriousness of current events. At the very least, they serve as a platform for a small degree of justice to be served. The $2.5 million Sterling owes will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and its player association. The “prioritized indignation” is better than none at all, but I wanted to educate more fully using a platform of my own.

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