Get in the Game: Sterling and Other Scandals

By Kristy Barry

Soon-to-be-former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling (center) back in the ’80s, a simpler time before the age of Instagram or when Sterling seemed to have a problem being photographed with black people. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Donald Sterling has been portrayed as a plantation owner and categorized with radio shock-jock Don Imus and Marge Schott, an anti-minority, Hitler-adoring former owner of the Cincinnati Reds. But of all the caricatures out there, Sterling reminds me of Dave Chappelle in a skit he did as a blind, black white supremacist, Clayton Bigsby, who doesn’t realize he’s black. Chapelle is sitting on his rocking chair on his front porch, ranting about how much he hates black people.

Sterling, who will soon no longer own the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, isn’t black but he’s spent the last thirty years sitting on the sidelines of basketball games with his black and Mexican mixed race girlfriend V. Svitiano and he launches into a tirade against her when she posts photos of herself posing with black people, like Magic Johnson, on Instagram. The tirade was private, but recorded secretly and leaked to the media.

This isn’t shocking so much as it’s just absurd. Sterling is agitated that Svitiano associates with black people–yet he owns a team in a predominantly African American basketball league. Anyone can rattle off a list of stereotypes without much controversy, whether they’re 100 percent true or not.

But Sterling’s choice of “publicly associate with” is different and bizarre… considering the fortune he’s amassed by his association. His girlfriend can sleep with black people, she just can’t bring them to his games.

Somewhere Paula Deen is deep-frying something and sugarcoating her own controversial story: “And I wanted to have a party WITH black people!”

With other scandals, the company could distance itself from their advertising campaigns, morally-bankrupt celebrity endorsements, and figureheads who flubbed speech. Nike can drop Tiger Woods. MSNBC can drop Don Imus. Charlie Sheen can lose his role on Two And A Half Men.

Nabisco created a gay-friendly ad for Oreos that some were upset by and vowed to boycott Nabisco. The company deals in crackers and cookies. Some people may obliviously continue to buy Oreos and have no concern other than whether the cookie should be dunked in milk first or twisted to eat the cream center first.

Chick-Fil-A had beef with gays after reports surfaced that the CEO Dan Cathy donated over $8 million to organizations opposed to same-sex marriage. Again, some people may not care that he made cuckoo remarks–like that being gay can be cured. Gay people may tell themselves they are happy he wastes his money on a futile cause. They get their “chick-n-strips” and biscuit sandwiches and can still get married in many states–that they have a group of people they heavily disagree with as well. Like people who wear jeans with denim jackets.

But with Chick-Fil-A, Cathy isn’t shaking his fist at the chicken that he gets rich off of and he doesn’t spit on those to whom he’s not selling. With Sterling, even though he wasn’t grabbing the bull-horn and publicly trashing black people in center court, there’s a twisted worldview underneath his now tarnished public image that he can’t untangle himself from. His team, players, and the league will continue to lose millions in endorsements and fan revenue.

Although the NBA commissioner Adam Silver has banned Sterling for life from attending games, why would Sterling even want to, for fear at least for personal safety?

I imagine Sterling is extremely baffled by this episode–drinking McCallan created around the same year he was and wondering why his private, personal statements were broadcasted to the result that the NBA fines him $2.5 million, barring him from attending games, his fellow NBA team owners are ganging up to oust him, and he’s been dubbed in some public discussions as a “plantation-style owner.”

He was born in 1933 and for the past 80 years, he’s conducted himself in a way that’s profited him dearly and given him a lifestyle where he can woo beautiful models with million-dollar penthouses, Ferraris, and jewelry. But tell her she can’t bring Magic Johnson, or any other person of color to basketball games for a team he owns, and his life turns into this not-at-all-free, free speech personal nightmare.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote a fantastic, insightful column for Time magazine. He recalled working for Sterling in 2000 and wrote that “nothing happened or was said to indicate he suffered from IPMS (Irritable Plantation Master Syndrome).” Then, Jabbar listed legals infractions Sterling has faced with housing and Clippers hiring discrimination, noting that Sterling is someone with “more money than brains.”

Jabbar also noted the public discussion shouldn’t be solely about racism but also about privacy. I’m shocked how sex tapes and photos and damning audio recordings can be leaked without prison time or hefty fines, even when dignity is sacrificed at the expense of exploiting someone with celebrity, clout, or a lot of money.

Jabbar goes on to write that, “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.”

Sterling is guilty of many things– cheating on his wife, bigoted ranting, housing discrimination towards African Americans but ultimately, being as short-sighted as Chappelle’s Clayton Bigsby–will destroy whatever dignity he has left.

For more, check out Kristy in conversation on BTR Sports, every Sunday on BreakThru Radio.