No one can talk about LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling without getting a foul taste in their mouth. The man exudes all the qualities that have derailed civilized society; he is a bitter, bigoted billionaire who feels entitled to anything and everything.
It’s certainly one of the most bizarre cases of public foot-in-mouth that I know of. What it essentially boils down to is a rich, white man arguing with his half-black girlfriend – a transparent gold digger who pretends to wish she could agree with him – about her, in his view, improper decision to post pictures of herself commiserating with black men on social media. In the course of the argument, he outs himself as incredibly racist, saying such surreal things as, “You’re supposed to be a delicate, white girl,” and talking about all the generous gifts he showers his black athletes with.
The whole exchange is a fascinating lens into the wild world of America’s privileged. Imagine stepping behind the scenes of Rome around the time of its collapse, with all the decadence, debauchery and immorality that accompanies it. Sterling regards Stiviano as a status symbol, which is why he’s so offended that she posts pictures online that he thinks cast him in a bad light.
But there’s still something fishy about the reaction to his vile comments. Not in the disgust that just about everyone has expressed, which is understandable, but in the official reactions.
The NBA owners club is a private enterprise, with rules and stipulations that are privately administered. Sterling isn’t in any legal trouble. Yet many people are still worried about his being punished for something he said in private. If legal action were being brought, it’d be tantamount to convicting Sterling of thoughtcrime.
In most cases, I’d be inclined to agree. But Sterling’s case is exceptional. He’s one of the most open racists the media has had the chance to enjoy in recent years; perhaps only Michael Richards generated more heat in the last decade and I’d argue his comments – though far more violent – were actually more innocent, given circumstances and setting. It sends a chill down the spine to know that “owner” is the relationship Sterling has to his mostly-minority basketball team. Knowing what we now know about him, banning him from the NBA ought to be almost a given.
What makes the decision fishy, though, is the NBA’s suddenly giving a shit. As has been consistently pointed out, Sterling’s record of racism extends much further into his past than the incident with girlfriend V. Stiviano. It’s essentially a badly guarded NBA secret, and numerous news outlets have pointed out his official record of discriminating against minorities in his real estate enterprise. Yet now that it’s out in the open, his former friends – who surely knew all along – must vote to remove him from his position.
One must ask whether that’s truly an honorable thing. If these people had no problem with Sterling’s views and, more importantly, his actions when they were slightly less public, why do they have such an issue with them now? It’s damage control, plain and simple: it’s got nothing to do with correcting Sterling’s sins or the NBA ownership evolving on an important moral issue.
Sterling’s own candid comments reveal the staunch racism embedded in the culture of the white, wealthy, ownership class. The whole reason he launched his tirade against Stiviano at all is that his friends were taunting him for her posting pictures with various black athletes. Sterling’s friends said, in essence, “Ha, ha, Don, we saw your girlfriend with Magic Johnson. Do you think she’s fucking him? You know what they say about black penises!” Sterling takes this up with Stiviano, asking, “Why do you have to take pictures with those people and embarrass me like that?” Once those comments are made public, the same type of people harassing Sterling in the first place, leading him to his incoherent, outraged babbling, are now saying, “We are shocked and offended at Don’s comments and want him out of the NBA.” It’s the very definition of hypocrisy, and yet athletes and commentators alike are applauding it.
This is certainly not an attempt to cast Sterling as some kind of victim, as a handful of fringe commentators on the right have. He absolutely deserves all that is coming to him. This article isn’t to argue with that: it’s to say he probably deserves far more, and there are probably far more people out there who do, as well.
I am rarely impressed by the apologies of public figures, nor by reprimands that the wealthy institute among themselves. The league wants to fine Sterling a meager $2.5 million and force him to sell a team that’s worth many times more than that? The poor guy; that really ought to learn him.
America’s billionaires are impervious. Slapping them on the wrist for saying something naughty is totally ineffectual in terms of combating the systemic roots of their incredible, kingly privilege. Donald Sterling is little different from the oil executive who receives a huge severance for wiping out an ecosystem or the banker who gets a bailout when his predatory lending schemes lead to his bankruptcy.