Donald Sterling: A Small Man

The Los Angeles Clippers play their fifth playoff game against the Golden State Warriors tonight. The series had been a good one, up to the third game. These teams played each other tough, as they did during the regular season, and there’s been some good playoff basketball to watch. The first game went the Warriors way, as Blake Griffin got into foul trouble and Chris Paul wasn’t hitting his shots at the end. The second game went the Clippers way, as Griffin dominated the post, once he realized he needed to stay on the court to take advantage of his interior skills. The Clippers eked out a win in the third game when the Warriors charged in the fourth quarter. Great, satisfying NBA playoff basketball.

The fourth game was ruined by the spectre of Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments. The Clippers were understandably deflated. The entire NBA league had been rattled. Our society is currently incensed. Race relations have been moved back a few decades by a cantankerous old man who seems to fancy himself a modern-era slave-benefactor in the mold of Cliven Bundy’s white ideals for the black community.

It has been suggested that the Clippers should not have played the fourth game. This might have been the best thing for the players. Some fans might not have appreciated it if the Clippers had not played, but many would have understood that mental acuity and physical performance go hand-in-hand in sports. Your mind must be sharp in order to play effectively. For the sake of the integrity of the game, it would have been understood by this fan if the Clippers decided not to play…I feel the Warriors might have joined them in a symbolic boycott. League executives would not have appreciated it, but they would run the risk of alienating a majority of their fan base, if they denounced the players for a boycott instead of Sterling for his comments.

What confounds me a bit is how some sports reporters reacted to the Clippers’ show of unity. The players wore their warm-up jerseys inside-out, hiding Sterling’s ownership brand. Some indicated that this was inappropriate, and the Clippers should wait until afterward to express their indignity. The thinking goes that the Clippers should focus on the game and worry about politicizing another time. Some suggested that the Clippers shouldn’t show that Sterling was on their mind because it was a sign of weakness, and they lost game four because their minds were more on how to make a statement than winning the game.

That’s a load of horse crap. Of course their minds were on Sterling’s comments, but they weren’t obsessing over how to express indignation. They wore their warm-up jerseys inside-out, and they played the game despite the mental burden they had forced upon them. Their minds were going to be on Sterling’s comments regardless of a show of protest, just like the rest of the free world is focusing on Donald Sterling presently. They had the extraordinary burden, as a team, of performing under a scathing spotlight, attempting to win for each other, while not representing a revealed bigot. I applaud the Clippers for displaying their opposition to Sterling through symbolic gesture. It’s just piling on the deflated to disallow them an opportunity to express themselves jointly; it is borderline repugnant to suggest they lost the game because of their demonstration.

This is where we overreact as a society. Americans are always quick to point the hot finger of blame when scandal presents itself. Donald Trump, another rich entrepreneur who might soon own the NFL Buffalo Bills, pointed the finger at Sterling’s girlfriend. Some, myself included, point the finger at former NBA commissioner David Stern for allowing Sterling to operate while aware of his debauched character (Please explain to us again, Mr. Stern, how Chris Paul ended up in a Clippers uniform). It has even been suggested that we are all to blame because we grow resentful about recorded phone calls instead of discriminatory real-estate practices.

Donald Sterling should be blamed entirely here. It is his fault for being a racist. Whether the conversation was private or not, Sterling’s character is obvious from his rhetoric. He deserves the lion’s share of consequence because his beliefs have been exposed. At 80 years old, he has had plenty of time to reconsider his racism, and he stuck with a hateful ideology, most likely for eight decades. Let’s keep that red-hot focus on the appropriate target, please.

It’s obvious that Donald Sterling will not lose in this situation. He sits on a pile of wealth, and he stands to gain even more, if he is forced to sell the franchise. Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the NBA, will hold a press conference today to discuss the consequences for Donald Sterling. Most likely, he will be suspended and/or fined. At best, Sterling’s ownership rights will be removed (I’m not sure consensus on this will be reached by the other 29 owners).

The only consequence that matters will be social ostracization. He has been exposed, and the nation is aware of his character. An apology, like the one given last year by Philadelphia Eagles WR Riley Cooper, will not suffice. The situations are different: Cooper shouted an excited utterance which was recorded, to which his apology was contrite and his actions were representative of humility, while Sterling laid down an entire manifesto of racism that would be difficult to renege without betraying his dishonesty. Sterling cannot apologize without stating unequivocally that he is wrong to think and believe in such a manner. I assume a man like Sterling will remain smugly complacent in his own world view, and that might be the biggest tragedy of all. Sterling might die a miserable racist on a big pile of money…and that might be the only satisfaction we receive collectively…

…and that is what we should concern ourselves with tonight. There are calls to boycott tonight’s game. Fans in L.A. might not attend the game. Viewers might deflate the ratings by turning the channel. If Adam Silver’s press conference does not satisfy the demands of the public, the players just might boycott tonight’s playoff game.

I hope the Clippers and Warriors play tonight. I hope fans pack the house to support the Clippers. I anticipate tonight’s game might actually increase the viewer ratings. I hope that the Clippers can play through this hardship. I hope that both teams play to their potential and give fans a competitive game. Just as a one million dollar fine would mean little to the wealthy Donald Sterling, a boycott against his franchise will probably mean less to this racist mogul. It is my hope that Donald Sterling is not the focus tonight. I hope that the players can accept adversity and display courage in the same vein that Jackie Robinson once did daily in a Dodgers uniform. I hope that the public can celebrate the black players on the floor as representatives of a great and diverse American game. I hope that the words of a very small man do not spoil the camaraderie and festivity of our American ideals and tradition, represented by these treasured NBA players, no matter the color of their skin.

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Scott C. Guffey
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