Opinion

NBA, commish Silver slam the jar on Donald Sterling... But what now?

L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, seen in the middle, poses for a photograph in 1989. Sterling on Tuesday was banned for life from associating with the Clippers or the NBA, after a tape claimed to air him making racist comments to his former girlfriend. - Wikimedia Commons (author CliffWildes)
L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, seen in the middle, poses for a photograph in 1989. Sterling on Tuesday was banned for life from associating with the Clippers or the NBA, after a tape claimed to air him making racist comments to his former girlfriend.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons (author CliffWildes)

So now we know.

The NBA's new commissioner ain't afraid to drop the hammer, Clippers owner Donald Sterling will never be associated the league or his long losing team ever again, and an embarrassing saga has come to an end, or at least something like a denouement.

(Sterling was also fined $2.5 million on Tuesday by the commish, Adam Silver, which is a drop in the bucket for the billionaire. Silver will now try force Sterling to sell his team.)

The real question is, what now? And not just what now with Sterling.

One offensive owner has been snuffed out of his chair, but that hasn't changed the fact that too many others say the same things Sterling did – and much worse – when they're not being recorded by an ex-girlfriend. They think it, they practice it, and it infects everything they do and everyone they deal with. And it's happened for a long time, either undocumented or ignored by the rest of us because it wasn't as entertaining or as viral as the Sterling file.

"This is the only opportunity that a lot of people out here will have where they feel comfortable within their souls, within their psyches to stand against racism," said columnist Bomani Jones, while on The Dan Le Batard Show. "It's so easy to do it on this right here, and it's so scandalous.

"What he (Sterling) talked about was actually fairly illuminating, if you want to listen to it, because what he said was, 'This is how things go with rich people I hang out with, and the rich people I hang out with, don't want their women out here hanging out with black people, even if she's black.'"

Just last week, the American Republican Party's hero of the day, Cliven Bundy, said he thought black people might have been better off when they were slaves. It turned the GOP's 2014 version of Joe the Plumber into an embarrassing, insanely offensive endorsement... but will that dissuade anyone of Bundy's shade to change their mind, or will it just tell every other rogue redneck rancher, "The mistake he made was going on TV"?

If you want to look further afield, quite literally, Barcelona FC player Dani Alves (who is black) had a banana thrown at him before he took a corner on Sunday, while playing in Spain. Alves picked up the banana and ate it, a necessary and perfectly executed move that trivialized the event – but it didn't erase it.

The guy who threw the banana is being dealt with by Villarreal (the host team) and is banned from the team's stadium for life. Good choice. But it's Europe... you can expect the same thing to happen in another stadium, and very soon.

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CP - Clippers protest Donald Sterling remarks and comments

Los Angeles Clippers players listen to the national anthem wearing their warmup jerseys inside out to protest alleged racial remarks by team owner Donald Sterling before Game 4 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, April 27, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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In the United States – and in Canada, let's not fool ourselves – racism plays a very real and very destructive role in the lives of too many people from every different minority. Comments and one-off actions that are dealt with swiftly are easy bandwagons to jump on and they need to be handled the way Silver handled today's, but it's the true challenges facing inner-cities in Baltimore or Los Angeles – even ethnic communities in Toronto and Vancouver, and especially aboriginal communities across Canada – that are harder to fix and harder to stand against because they're harder to define. Economy and history seems to excuse our collective responsibility to them now.

There's a difference between jokes like the kinds Joan Rivers, Russell Peters, and Louis C.K. make and the overt racism expressed by Sterling, just like Avril Lavigne's Hello Kitty-ish Japanese-mocking music video doesn't make her the warden of a World War II-era B.C. internment camp.

But there's also a difference between what Sterling said this time and what he's actually done in the past, which includes a history defined by racist practices, not just racist rants. (But, of course, he's said a lot of shi*ty stuff, too.)

Jones – again, speaking on Dan Le Batard's radio show – had covered allegations against Sterling years ago, and joked that more people have read his old stories in the last week than they had when he originally wrote them.

Jones also labelled housing discrimination – of which Sterling was found guilty of in 2009, when he was ordered to pay a $2.725 million settlement for discrimination against African-Americans and Hispanics in L.A. – as America's version of Apartheid.

"That's the stuff that Donald Sterling has been doing forever," Jones said, noting that Sterling was originally sued in 2003 and found to have made discriminatory remarks related to his housing projects in 2006. "You're gonna come to me and talk about what's going on with Donald Sterling and his mistress? Are you kidding me? That stuff (housing discrimination) was real, that stuff matters, that stuff literally kills people.

"People here need to get their heads out of their clavens and realize that this here is fun to talk about, but this is nothing. The real stuff that happened was that."

If any of Sterling's critics are actually serious about eradicating the beliefs he has from their society, they'll treat him like what he is. Donald Sterling is over. Done-zo. He's a joke, a guy who will go down with the likes of Marge Schott, Phil Robertson, and Pat Robertson as an ideological fossil rendered irrelevant by progression. But he's also a lesson for next time, a real-life case study in why we should pay attention to a life littered with clues.

In 30 years, will we remember Sterling? Hell, I had never heard of Schott until some baby boomer broadcaster brought her up on ESPN yesterday.

On Tuesday, Adam Silver did the right thing. He removed Sterling from his league and erased his public profile, at least the one most of us know him for. He handed down the punishment, and that's all Silver could do. He handled the case they way he could for his environment, and I think he deserves an applause for Tuesday.

But the problems still persist, and we can no longer be shocked or stupefied when someone else repeats history, and we can't let our sometimes vain desire to be outraged by everything dissuade our focus from acts of oppression that are consciously dished out every day, in the United States, in Canada, and anywhere else. It's our fault if we don't react accordingly the first time.

This isn't a victory. It's just a good riddance.

The punching bag has been defeated, but we're still waiting for the bell.

 

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