Blasting Sterling Was a Slam Dunk

But Changing How We Act and What We Say on Race Won’t Be So Easy

Sunday, May 11, 2014
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Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling became a national piñata when his racist ramblings were broadcast over the airways. Politicians, journalists, religious leaders, civil rights advocates, sports figures, celebrities, and anyone else who had an audience of more than one smashed their keyboards and microphones into this vile, crude billionaire.

And he deserved every hit, and more.

Ben Bycel

He warrants no sympathy for his age or his alleged heath problems. Nor should the fact that it is illegal in California to record a person’s comments without his permission gain him a hall pass. He’s been an open racist for years, both in words and actions.

Ironically, the eventual outcome of Sterling’s muddy landslide from public approval will likely be that he will make hundreds of millions of dollars by being forced to sell his NBA franchise.

So the question remains, after Sterling is gone, will there be any long-term public good from the widespread public airing of his racist ranting?

The well-respected New York Times writer William C. Rhoden asked, “With the public flogging over, some will declare the issue dead and the bad guy … vanished. If that is the result, we will all miss a golden opportunity for a deeper exploration of racism.”

He’s right. It is a perfect time to explore our own prejudices on race, religion, sex, gender, and the like. Even more important is what we do when faced with the ethical situation where we have, to use an idiom, “skin in the game.”

Used most often in financial investing and in sports betting, “skin in the game” means that you are not just an observer of what is happening. You have a personal stake in the outcome. Almost everyone involved in blasting Don Sterling had no skin in the game. In fact, some of Sterling’s critics used this occasion to make up for all the years they said and did nothing when Sterling made racists comments and paid millions of dollars for violating civil rights laws.

The ethical question is, what if you do have skin in the game? That is, you are faced with a serious consequence if you speak out against racism.

If you find Sterling appalling, are you willing to lose a promotion or a job, a friendship or a place in your community, by speaking out against racism?

Some examples: Maybe your boss at work openly expresses racism with comments about how a certain group is lazy or not clean.

While some of your colleagues may be aghast at what he said, they do not speak out.

What do you do? You definitely have skin in the game — yours. Because he’s not committed an illegal act of discrimination, there are no enforcement authorities to report him to.

Do you ask to meet with him so you can tell him such statements are unacceptable and risk losing your job? Do you write him a letter? Do you try to organize others to stand with you?

Or, do you rationalize that your boss’s personal beliefs are his, and he, like anyone else, has a right to articulate them?

What if someone in your community of family friends makes racists comments at a picnic? Do you tell the friend that such statements offend you? Do you make it clear that your friendship is at stake if she does not stop making racist remarks? Or do you avoid any confrontation and merely take her off your Christmas card list?

What if your longtime doctor makes racist comments? You need his services for your health care. Do you risk the relationship by telling him how you feel about his comments?

What have you done when you had “skin in the game”? What will you do?

I wish I could tell you that each and every time that I have been faced with a similar situation in the past, I spoke up. Most of the time I did, but there were times when I did not, and to this day I regret those occasions.

And while I am at it, let me touch on another hot-button issue.

Should you speak out each time someone attempts to tell you a joke when the butt of the humor is a racial or other stereotype? What if you and the joke teller are members of that stereotyped group? What if the joke teller is someone you know to have fought for that group? Has political correctness, which decries even a mention of a stereotypical aspect of a religion, race, or other identity, gone too far? Or is political correctness the front line of the fight against prejudice and discrimination?

What do you think?


Independent Discussion Guidelines

airing Sterling's sicko rant hasn't helped much in the struggle vs. deep racism. Some analysis of the connection between historic capitalism and racism would help, as would a significant redistribution of wealth and income toward the bottom and the middle.
One aspect in personal relationships is when a student, e.g. a Jewish student I once had, who thought it was very cool if HE made anti-Semitic jokes. When I called him on it, he was incredulous, "But I AM Jewish!" he retorted. "But your comment is still anti-Semitic," I pointed out, "and next some of your pals who are non-Jewish will be repeating this rubbish, and they will also get called on it my the teachers and by me." How many black entertainers do we hear making anti-black slurs and comments? How do we condone this?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 11, 2014 at 2:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Does his cross-cultural dating habits nullify anything? Actions or words. Your call.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
May 11, 2014 at 2:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sterling's bad choice of words in his racist rants is only exceeded by his bad choices in his personal life.

Botany (anonymous profile)
May 11, 2014 at 4:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Treating a woman as an object doesn't nullify racist actions such as Sterling's throughout the years. If she's Afro-American it only further illustrates Sterling's inability to see people as people, not objects he owns. Have you ever heard the word "love" once in any of this in reference to any of Sterling's relationships? He can have his money, I'd rather not be him.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 11, 2014 at 6:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I was watching a certain cable news channel and they told me that racism is behind us, except as it lingers against whites, so I was shocked to hear that Sterling said these things.

There should be an investigation. I don't believe he said these things. He couldn't have because those days are over. We have a black president, for goodness' sake!

ahem (anonymous profile)
May 11, 2014 at 8:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sterling's a racist, his girlfriend has no self-respect, people knew for years what this guy was about but because he has lots of money, neither the girlfriend nor those around him cared.

Yeah, speaking up ain't too popular. I've been blasted alot for daring to challenge the juggernaut of the alcohol industry (which is strongly promoted by this publication) but I'd rather be right than popular. Having said that, I would hope that I would have the courage to be willing to give up my life if I had to make that ultimate decision of principle over convenience.

Life is never easy.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 5:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh, the Botany!

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 11:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Now they're saying he may have dementia. For years people were calling Rita Hayworth an alcoholic, but she had Alzheimer's the whole time.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 11:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

“Blasting” is exactly right. Sterling sure made the calmest “rant” I've ever heard. Some peeps eager to display their PC bona fides, I theenk.

There's room for a devil's advocate here. Who can deny that Sterling was meticulous enough to blame society? (“It's the world.”) Also, he's no skinhead or klansman, and that's not just because of his ineligibility. He had cordial relations with lots of Black ppl in basketball. He's just a bit of a dinosaur, with an ironic comment here, a protective covenant there.... And of course, his very private comments were betrayed to the news media. He absolutely did not throw the match on the gasoline, he just lit it. Defense rests.

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 11:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Whose fault is it ultimately? Wilt Chamberlain's.

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 11:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As long as every person of every color is treated the way he has been treated every time they say anything racist - then sure.

Katydid52 (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 12:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Wilt Chamberlain wasn't racist. He would have sex with any woman regardless of race, creed or color.

Botany (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 12:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yeah, Botany, 20,000 of them, by Wilt Chamberlain's own estimate! And his glory rubs off on basketballers (especially Black ones) to this day. That's what played on Sterling's insecurities, presumably - the imputation that his concubine couldn't have been just friends with Magic Johnson et al. J'accuse!

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 3:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Katydid52: Maybe you haven't gotten the news, but I've been told (by ex- fiancee, no less) that "Black ppl cannot be racist, because of the ***polarity*** of the ***power*** ***relationship***. " (Tone of voice trumps mere logic every time, signifying The Truth.) BTW, ex fiancee is now with a professor of political science at UC Berkeley, and reports that they "agree on just about everything, politically." Your tax dollars at work! Ah, enlightenment!

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 3:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

your Sterling defense isn't very convincing, atomic. Maybe Sterling does have some dementia, his words are still not OK. think back to the Al Campanis debacle with the Dodgers: he had helped Jackie Robinson and certainly was no over racist, but there's plenty of latent racism (and sexism and classism and etc) in our society then and now. Campanis said something "ironic" or just stupid on TV, along the lines of black ball players weren't smart enough to become managers, and he really paid the bill, was fired, his entire honorable career shot through careless wording which exhibited his latent racism. How many of us are purely free of these distortions?
Still, I'm glad Sterling is banned for life, and his wife should never get to keep the team, what a tawdry and gross show.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 6:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan, I didn't mean for my defense to be "very convincing," only convincing enough to secure a life term vs death by convulsions. Sorry if my humor was too dry for you, but I swear it's funny to mummies. BTW, the only stereotype without its grain of truth (whether small, medium or large) that I can think of is of the lazy Mexican, which probably came from observation of tired Mexicans having siestas during the hottest part of the day. (When you could fry a huevon on the sidewalk.)

Squelching jokes won't make truth-grains go away. Comfortable co-existence requires a bit of latitude to acknowledge real group tendencies. That's accomplished best by a public self-tease. What would we do without ethnic comedians like Jeff Foxworthy? Sure, some individuals are badly enough afflicted by their group's liabilities that they'll be deeply offended, so there's room for discretion, too. But eff them a little if they can't take a little joke.

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 8:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

By what right should Sterling's wife be deprived of her ownership interest in the club? She's a 50% owner and she did nothing to deserve banishment.

Botany (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 10:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I was wondering that myself Botany, getting into guilt by association territory there. And when you think about it, she's being gang injuncted!

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 10:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How about we acknowledge Sterling is a jerk and move on? How about his players simply say "we won't play for him"? Lots of power in the marketplace.

I used to be a FANatic follower of boxing, until I realized the hypocrisy of paying money to buy fights promoted by Don King (whose history of bad behavior is too long to get into here--but well known by boxing fans) and simply stopped paying for his fights. Meanwhile, people complained about how he was taking advantage of boxers he promoted, all the while buying his fights. I cannot even repeat everything Mike Tyson said about Don King recently (for the sake of decency) but one of the words Tyson used to describe King was "reptilian". For what it's worth, Tyson's career and life went down the tubes after hooking up with King--despite King's long history of problems known to the boxing world but hey, King could flash a lot of $$$ and the temptation was just too much for Tyson and other ill-fated pugilists.

Back to the subject of race: Al Sharpton's racist, anti-Semetic, homophobic rants are also well known to those who have been awake in the last quarter century, yet MSNBC rewards Sharpton (whose groundbreaking act of fame was his participation in the Tawana Brawley hoax) with a bully pulpit. When I've been with people who watch MSNBC, I can hear Sharpton screaming his usual palaver. I do not call on MSNBC to fire Sharpton, I simply do not watch MSNBC. If this station wants to pay Rev. Al the big $$$, and people are willing to support this, then so be it, I vote with my voice and my remote control.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 12, 2014 at 11:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

billclausen, you need to go to college and learn double standards, ha ha. (Guess what, double standards are not racist after all, if you want a fair grade in some classes.)

atomic_state (anonymous profile)
May 13, 2014 at 1:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm way ahead of you great Nuclear One, I'm into triple-standards.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
May 13, 2014 at 2:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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