Photo via Flickr user Craig Dietrich
For the entirety of the eight decades Donald Sterling has been alive, he has been, logic would dictate, an atrocious human being. Sterling, however, isn’t the only piece of shit on the planet. Nor is he the first person in the public eye to have been caught expressing himself in an unsavory manner. By all intents and purposes, he is your industry standard old, white, capitalistic owner of the proverbial company store. There’s one thing that differentiates him from his comparably crapulent kin, though: he’s actually being punished for his antiquated attitude.
With a seemingly endless list of famous folks who have gotten away with essentially (and in some instances, literally) murder, the vast majority of whom have never been penalized in any profound manner, the fact that Sterling’s recent racist remarks elicited a lifetime ban from the NBA appears to be unprecedented. Which begs the question, why him? And why now?
The internet, in its infinite wisdom and indignation, has presented us with the following facts, which we’ve heard a million times at this point: a few months ago, the Los Angeles Clippers owner made a handful of racist, soundbite-friendly comments to his personal assistant and alleged mistress, a woman with the tabloid-friendly and self-appointed moniker of V. Stiviano. Once an undisclosed source leaked said statements to TMZ, they instigated a veritable shitstorm of consequences, up to and including Sterling’s aforementioned ban from the NBA. Sterling can no longer attend games played by the team he, in spite of it all, still owns.
This isn’t Sterling’s first taste of racially tinged controversy. In 2009, he settled a housing discrimination lawsuit with the Department of Justice for $2.765 million, the largest such settlement of its time. In court documents, Sterling was quoted as saying he didn’t want to rent units to black people because he felt they “smell and attract vermin.” This was not his first suit of this nature—over the years, he has paid out millions on similar cases. I guess the fact that he doesn’t want black people attending his basketball games somehow carries more weight than the fact that he doesn’t want them living in his apartment buildings? That must be the case—otherwise the NBA would have kicked him out of the league for being a bigot sooner, right?
We’ve known about Sterling’s prejudiced beliefs for years, but looking up court documents and pulling out choice quotes like “Just evict the bitch” (which he said, incidentally, about a legally blind elderly African-American woman who wanted to be reimbursed for water damage sustained after her Sterling-owned apartment flooded) is harder than turning on TMZ and hearing a salacious soundbite played over an unflattering photo of the man alongside his beautiful, no doubt long-suffering assistant. When it came to managing his real estate empire, Sterling focused his prejudice on old black women and Section 8 holders. He was allowed, apparently, to hate them, but once he focused his vitriol on Magic Johnson, well, then, we had a problem. In order to give a shit, we needed a soundbite, not to mention a victim we cared about.
Pot shots about professional sports stars, apparently, is where we as a culture draw the line—where someone’s actions can result in demonstrable consequences which prohibit them from continuing to keep on keepin’ on despite their incendiary indiscretions. But out of all the awful guys who have said and done awful things, why is Donald Sterling the only one we've chosen to make an example of?
Photo via Flickr user Shaun Merritt
After all, Mel Gibson, a man whose ex also shared damming voicemails out of spite, voicemails in which he referred to Latinos as “wetbacks” and hoped she’d “get raped by a pack of niggers,” wasn’t barred from making movies because of his offensive remarks. (In fairness, his career has reached a standstill since, but not due to an overt embargo.) A leaked recording of Toronto mayor Rob Ford drunkenly ranting about “fags” and “dagos” hit the presses two goddamned weeks ago _and he's _still running for reelection, albeit while taking a much-needed break to dry out. No one, however, is banning him from running for political office, although the powers-that-be arguably should.
In July of last year, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught violently yelling the n-word, on camera, at a Kenny Chesney concert. Less than a year later he, signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the team. Why wasn’t he banned from the NFL? Is it because he’s good at throwing the ol’ pigskin around? Or is it because he called a stranger, _not _a fellow teammate, the n-word?
Photo via Flickr user Keith Allison
Is the fact that Sterling looks like the sort of guy who would make racist comments why we’re so comfortable with causing him discomfort? Or is it the celebrity of the subject he spat his vitriol at? Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, refuses to change the name of his team, in spite of the fact that it’s grossly offensive to Native Americans. No one’s banning him from owning a team with a racist name, though. Maybe because Native Americans don’t have enough political pull to force the NFL into acting ethically.
I'm not saying we should all band together and pity Sterling—at least, not any more than one can pity a racist, billionaire slumlord. Nor am I saying that he shouldn’t be banned from the NBA. The argument could, and should, be made that a line needs to be drawn into the sand; that we as a culture should no longer allow men like Sterling to desecrate professional sports, and our country as a whole, with their bigotry. I have no problem with shaming him. I only ask why he’s the one we’ve chosen to shame. And why we didn’t do it sooner, and why we don’t do it more often. Because we can hem, and we can haw, and we can sit on our high horses. But the horses have been sitting in the stable for years, waiting for us to mount them. We’re just, it seems, too chicken-shit to ride them.
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