The Donald Sterlings of America Make It Too Easy for Us

Blatant racism lets the NBA, and the rest of America, off the hook.

ROBYN BECK/Getty Images


The News: As the National Basketball Association prepares to try to force out Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the embattled owner says he will not sell his team.

The NBA requires 75 percent of its team owners, or 23 of the total 30, to vote in favor of terminating Sterling’s ownership. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said he’s “confident” he will receive enough support. On Wednesday, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive said he expects the vote against Sterling to be unanimous.  

The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, LeBron James, on Wednesday urged the league to move swiftly “no matter how long it takes, no matter how much money it costs.”

The owners’ advisory and finance committee is expected to discuss the matter Thursday.

The Take: There is no question that Sterling’s girlfriend violated his privacy, perhaps unlawfully, by recording their conversation. Indeed, the NBA’s response set a possibly ominous precedent for everyone in professional sports, where racial slurs are commonly spoken during competition and in locker rooms.

Will the next player or coach who utters the n-word on the court be suspended? It would be consistent with the NFL’s potential ban of the n-word. What if he says it elsewhere in public or during a private phone conversation?

For now, who cares? Sterling publicly proclaimed his racist and misogynistic opinions to anyone with working ears. His methods of managing the team oozed racial bias. For the purposes of the NBA and Sterling’s future as an owner, he effectively forfeited his privacy on this matter years ago. 

It is telling that the argument about privacy has been made more often than not by white people, such as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby. It’s also instructive that many white people, such as the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, have narrowly focused on the perils of racist speech. They yanked the low-hanging fruit and went to town.